Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Wraggle Taggle Gypsy" Wood Talismans

I picked up a darling little book at an estate sale last summer because of the motifs in its illustrations.  So the other day I brought out my wood burning tool and experimented with a few sketches that I borrowed from the Fireside Book of Folk Songs, drawn by Alice and Martin Probensen.  Since gypsy is the new woodland, I had to try drawing this little cart.  I love the stovepipe coming out of the top!

Stay tuned and sit tight- I'll have some new trellises to show in the coming days, especially if the rain continues!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plant of the Week: Showy Milkweed

With the rain sidelining my outdoor activities, the world wide web has been my garden outlet and I'm obsessing over Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed right now.   Full disclosure is that I've tried this plant twice and both times it died in defiance of my wish for clouds of happy butterflies.  I haven't lost faith- I'm planning on buying a few for the front garden and I'll report back on what happens. 
Asclepias is a tuber that shrinks back after it blooms, but can leave fiberglass-like stalks that the birds like to use for nest-making (or at least that's what Las Pilitas says).  When it blooms, a bevy of insects stampede the garden to enjoy its nectar.  Monarch butterfly larvae gobble up the foliage, as the poisonous leaves that they ingest help protect them from predators.  It's not unusual to find their turquoise and gold-dotted chrysalis' hanging from a stem. 

Soil:  Well-drained, but the key is no summer water.  This plant can't be mixed with water loving exotics.
Sun:  Full sun, although the photo above was taken at the base of a north-facing hill in the Trinity Alps.
Plant:  When it's dormant, perhaps when the first rains start.
Buy it:  Native Here Nursery carries a relative- Asclepias fascicularis, Annie's carries speciosa.  The link above to Las Pilitas shows that they carry them at the nursery, but not for the online store.  Hmmm.
Good for:  a must for the habitat garden, deer resistant gardens, dry cottage gardens (so romantic paired with Lupines and white CA poppies!), gardeners that don't like to water

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rainy Day Recipe: Cardamon Pinenut Scones

I received a little jar of heaven in the form of some incredible homemade lemon curd from a friend the other day and just had to figure out something to make that will cause me to eat as much of it as possible.  While a little spoonful here and there while standing before the open fridge will do the trick, I decided I'd make a batch of my cardamon pinenut scones to accompany it. 

I might be in the minority, but I'm not a fan of the "kitchen sink" scone that's become so popular in the last few years.  A scone is not a cupcake.  And a scone is not a muffin as far as texture.  And yes, I am snobby about it.  So this recipe might not be to everyone's taste (read the reviews on epicurious), but I love its aromatic simplicity- a little black dress of the scone world.  Not too sweet so the lemon curd can take center stage.  The original recipe can be found here, but I've simplified the instructions because who actually mixes their dry ingredients in a separate bowl first, anyway?

2 1/4 c flour (they say cake flour, but whatever)
1/2 tea salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tea baking soda
2 tea cardamon
1/4 tea cinnamon
1/4 tea nutmeg
2 tea lemon zest
3/4 stick of very cold butter
1/2 c milk
1 egg
3 tbsp light brown sugar (I use turbinado)
1 tea vanilla
For egg wash:
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
extra sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Combine dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix in the butter much like you would a pie crust.  I cut the stick into little squares and rub them into the flour mixture until crumbly.  Whisk in the wet ingredients and brown sugar.  Knead until a dough forms, about half a minute.  Divide the dough in two and squash them into circles about 3/4" thick.  Cut a cross into the tops about halfway through the thickness to divide each circle into fourths.  Brush on the egg wash and sprinkle some sugar over the rounds.  Bake in the oven about 18 minutes.  Serve with lemon curd.  Try to share.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oakland History Lecture: Greetings from Idora Park!

A couple of weeks ago, the Oakland Heritage Alliance gave a lecture and slide show (with a real slide projector!) about Idora Park.  For those who don't know, Idora Park is a small section in North Oakland where at the turn of a century, an amusement park gave hours of endless weekend entertainment.  When competing amusement parks choked out business, the site became an exclusive neighborhood of Storybook Style homes for the local Italian population.  Photos were taken from the alamedainfo site, which has quite an impressive collection!  Check it out!

I've done as much internet research as I could and have even spent an afternoon at the Oakland History Room, but Ray Raineri's energetic storytelling and an exhaustive set of postcard images shed some serious sunshine on what Idora Park once was.  Here's a few highlights:

-The entrance to the park was on Telegraph between 55th and 56th

-The rollercoaster sat along Shattuck Ave (maybe I'm living where the rollercoaster was!)  Notice that it wasn't a rollercoaster, but a scenic railway.
-Among the many rides, ostriches also had their own area.  The feathers were used to make hats.
-While parks today seem geared towards children, amusement parks of the Victorian era were marketed towards adults looking to spend their paychecks on a little fun

-A picture postcard of you and yours sitting in an automobile could be had for a hefty sum (5 cents?  10 cents?  Can't remember the exact amount)  Cars were still an unattainable rarity, but sending a postcard to a friend while looking smugly into the camera and clutching the wheel:  priceless.

-The park featured a swimming pool and since swimming hadn't become a popular pastime, unisex swimsuits could be rented out for the day.  I can't find photos online, but they are hilarious.
-Before the amusement park, the area was called Ayala Park and made for a lovely picnic spot on a sunny Sunday.   

-It's been rumored that the windmill currently in the front yard of a house on Telegraph was part of the original park, however it was once a lemonade stand and has proven difficult to move since it was constructed with cast iron!  If they can figure out how to transport it, I'd love to find it a home in the backyard!  It was its own thing, however and not part of Idora.

Can't wait to find the Sanborn maps and see what other mysteries I can discover!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flotsam & Jetsam

This wind and rain has a way of bringing out the sidewalk scavenger in me.  All sorts of cool stuff is falling out of trees, just waiting for me to pick it up and pretend that I have plans for it besides setting it on the dining room table to look at until certain other members of the household start getting annoyed with all this stuff everywhere.  So before this finds itself in the green bin, allow me to at least share it with you first.

The photo above are mini-pinecone guys at the ends of branches.  So cute!  There's something about their shape that seems so space-age.  I'd love to mix them in a bouquet of ferns and Eriogonum giganteum.

The Eucalyptus flowers looked illuminated on the dark sidewalk with its silvery leaves.  I don't exactly have a positive opinion towards their invasive qualities, but I'll enjoy what it can offer in the way of it's lady-like flower buds.
What cool things have you come across this week?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stealing a Peek at the Garden Between Raindrops

A brief respite from driving rain got me skipping outside to breathe the cold air and inspect the garden.  And... surprise!  A little Brodaiea coccinea has decided to join us above-ground and one of the Manzanitas is budding up.  (Hopefully it will flower as well, but I might have pruned it at the wrong time). 

The Dudleya hassei plants that have made the best of it are sending up little rosettes that I suppose will become lovely hummingbird coveted flower stalks.

It's also the perfect time to go to battle against the Oxalis, too as the ground is squishy.  And, of course the Malacothamnus fasciculatus is blooming forth, pretending she's basking in spring sunshine. 

So enjoy the rain today and all the promises it brings!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plant of the Week: Silk Tassel

It's one thing to drool over a photo or poetic description of a new plant, but it's quite another to stop in your tracks and stare stupidly with your mouth hanging open.  Between torrential downpours today, that's exactly what occurred between me and Garrya eliptica.  Truth be told, I've walked past this friendly shrub too many times to count, yet it's not until it screamed for attention that I noticed the poor dear.  Just look at these traffic stopping flowers!  Now that I'm paying attention, I'm noticing how nice its crinkle-edged leaves have fuzzy white undersides characteristic of many of our native plants.  Nice!  Garrya happily grows near the coast in well-drained soil, providing an evergreen hedge or screen and then knocking you out in winter with these stunning blooms.  Male plants produce longer catkins, with the variety 'James Roof' providing the best show. 

Soil: well-drained
Sun:  full to part sun
Plant:  the Fall might be ideal, after the summer heat and before the flowers are expected to appear.  The Spring would be good, as well.
Buy it:  California Flora Nursery shows one in stock, the Native Here Nursery seems to carry them, too.  For those on the Southern side of things, Las Pilitas Nursery will help you out.
Good for:  creating an evergreen background (pair it with Manzanitas for a winter wonderland of flowers!), garden drama, floral displays, deer sensitive gardens

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: California Native Plants for the Garden

Allow me to introduce you to my new Sunset Western Garden Book.  Well, sort of.  I'm slowly but surely getting through all the amazing books I received this Christmas and reading an encyclopedia has never been more engaging.  I'm currently spending most of my time right now pushing this book onto anyone who breathes. 

"California Native Plants for the Garden" focuses on California native plants that the home gardener can plop into their postage stamp and has introduced me to a few plants that I had not taken the time to become acquainted with.  Written by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O'Brien and including photos by Saxon Holt and Stephen Ingram among others, it opens with a handy guide to planting with natives which includes design and care tidbits.  The back of the book includes a separate section for annuals, lists of plants appropriate for various situations, nursery resources, and just tons more.

Dudleya hassei

The book is organized alphabetically by the plants' Latin names and includes the plants' natural habitats, but also where the plant can be grown (which aren't always the same).  A full, honest description follows, along with appropriate companions and cultivars.  Beautiful coffee table book photos bolster the descriptions, but are by no means meant to aid in plant ID.  (They're way better than Sunset's colored pencil sketches, though!)  The authors' passion for the plants come through in the writing and I believe this book should be considered a gateway drug to native planting:  I found myself drooling over everything, but had a little uncertainty about if they would work in my area.  A follow up on Las Pilitas' website should be in order before making large purchases.  The book includes many plants from so many different micro-climates, from succulents to columbines, that there is something for everyone.  It certainly helps further the cause that natives aren't just those scraggly things you see whilst hiking!

One critique is that all references to plants in companion planting suggestions or photo captions name plants by their common name, while the book is organized by Latin name.  A little annoying, but the benefits of this resource vastly outweigh the nit-picky items.  Highly, highly recommended!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seed Savers: It's Here! It's Here!

Oh happy day, my Seed Savers Exchange catalog has arrived!  It's so nice to sit with a steamy cup of tea, a kitty on your lap, "helping" you turn the pages of this veggie porn catalog,  and dreaming of the possibilities while the rainstorm germinates the wildflowers outside.  It doesn't matter that melons rarely develop in our powdery mildew infested coastal climate, just reading the descriptions keep me falsely optimistic:

"Charantais:  Considered to be the most divine and flavorful melon in the world.  Smooth round melons mature to a creamy grayish-yellow with green stripes.  Sweet, juicy salmon flesh.  Typically the size of a grapefruit and weighs about 2 pounds, perfect for two people.  Ripe melons have a heavenly fragrance."

By the time I'm at the end of the description, I am hypnotized.  I must have that melon!  These sorts of purchases never exactly turn out well, although my Dad in Sacramento celebrated an enormous warty French pumpkin from seeds I bought a few years ago.  Mine was a quarter of the size of his.  No fair!

At the very least this will jump-start my progress on creating a series of raised vegetable beds.  Then I can buy my seeds and support this amazing non-profit farm which works to collect and save our heirloom seeds.  Seeds can be purchased from the farm on their website, but members receive access to the Yearbook, which is basically a phone book for heirloom seeds collected and distributed by other members.  And for the first time, it's now available online!  While building raised beds can be daunting, I think the hardest part of all this will be deciding which seeds to buy!  

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Show us Your Baby Pictures!

A followup to my post about how much the world needs a database of wildflower seedling photos.  I emailed the California Native Plant Link Exchange and Roy responded with a wonderful idea.  Let's upload our seedling photos onto the Calflora Calphotos pages!  If you're ever trying to identify a plant you saw hiking, Calflora is the place to go.  The page will tell you all sorts of information about the plant and includes links to more specific information like photos, usda information, and of course the CNPLX which will let you know where you can purchase one for yourself.
I cruised some of the photo pages for our native annuals and I haven't found a seedling photo among them.  Anyone can post, so if you have some seedlings snap a few shots and share them with other budding native gardeners!  Register here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

With Visions of Calochortus Dancing in Her Head

Calochortus introducing itself

While I've heard lots of folks talk about how they're impatiently waiting for Spring, I can't help but smile at this bleak garden season and realize that it's the one closest to my heart.  Warmer weather brings the splendor of flowers, it's true.  However, it's the anticipation of those flowers that I enjoy the most.  The presents that Nature decides to bestow can never quite live up to the daydreams which materialize in paging through my bulb catalogs, googling care and propagation instructions for wildflowers (again and again), and fussing over the microscopic sprouts slowly  peeping up through the mulch. 
Don't get me wrong, I love the Spring and its frenetic surprises.  But imagining what those surprises will be before they arrive can be just as satisfying.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Plant of the Week: Hummingbird Sage

Salvia spathacea is the plant for those shady gardeners with sun denial.  While Hummingbird Sage indeed goes home to the Sage family for the holidays, it uncommonly thrives in part sun/shade conditions while its brothers and sisters shake their heads and bask in the hottest of conditions.
While many of our native Salvia's foliage have a musky scent, Salvia spathacea exudes a sweet, pineapple frangrance to delight the senses.  As the name suggests, when it's magenta flowers appear on twisting, curving flower stalks the Hummingbirds' chirp is never far off and buzzy fly-bys become frequent occurrences. 
What I enjoy about this plant is that I can show it to people who think California natives are gray and scraggly.  It would look equally at home under oak trees as it would in a white picket fenced cottage garden!

Soil:  well-drained but medium clay
Sun:  part sun to part shade.  I find morning sun and afternoon shade works best.
Plant:  Any time of year, really.  They grow fast from 4" pots. 
Buy it:  Annie's is out of stock for mail order, but they may have some at the nursery.  Yerba Buena has a few.  Oddly enough, California Flora Nursery carries the 'Las Pilitas' variety while Las Pilitas Nursery carries a few different varieties, along with its signature one.
Good for:  a shot of color when you're in a shady disposition (mix it with Douglas Iris!), cottage gardens, habitat gardens,  culinary or sensory gardens, under water intolerant trees, or trailing out of a brightly colored container.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Geek Out: Germination and Wildfire Study

 Chaparral of the Eastern Sierra

Holy smokes!  I think I just hit upon the Holy Grail of native plant geekery.  I innocently googled Nemophila germination hoping to find some nugget of wisdom as to why mine didn't do a darn thing (I'm crossing my fingers that it was the frosty days and not some other propagator's flaw).  Well, I did not find my answer, but I hit upon a paper talking about the relationship between seed germination and wildfires in Chaparral plant communities!  It even touches upon certain plants that require seed distribution by animals and insects!  It's published online by the Western Ecological Research Center, which boasts offices across our state and its neighbors.  Can't wait to delve further into this new find.
Apparently, Romneya coulteri has a higher germination rate when it's "in the presence of charred wood."  My wheels are turning...
I realize that most folks might either consider this old hat or have absolutely no interest, but I have gained so much knowledge from this community, that I thought I'd give back just a little.

Showing Off: Pruning Toyons


I can't tell you how satisfying it was to prune these Toyons!  It took the better part of the day, but I'm enjoying the graceful shape and the new-found openness from the street to the house.  It was quite dense before, with a ring of juniper bushes surrounding them.  I'd love to plant Pacific Coast Irises at their base for spring-time color- as long as the client and the local deer wouldn't mind! 

I don't have a "before" photo from the same angle, but you can see how dense and impenetrable it was.  Hopefully some of the interior branches will be able to sprout and fill in at the top now that they'll be enjoying the sunshine.  I love making plants happier! 
My method of pruning is a tidge free-form, but it begins with an assessment of the tree.  Are there dead branches?  Is the main structure of the tree straight or curving?  Like that old Sesame Street segment:  Which of these things is not like the others?  With something as full as the Toyons, I'll remove dead branches and twigs just to be able so see what I'm doing.  Otherwise, it can get overwhelming real fast.  Once the general form is apparent, I start pruning at the base and work my way up, making sure I visually follow where the branch goes before I remove it.  It might not look right at the trunk, but it could make a giant hole in the canopy, too.  If I can't decide whether or not to cut something off, I move on to something more obvious.  The decision will typically make itself clear when more material is removed.  It's also important to stop, step back and view the tree from all angles while working.  I get so focused on the details, I often forget about the big picture.  
Of course, this method is always prefaced with research about the particular plant- does it respond well to pruning?  Will it form buds at the base of the branches pruned?  When is the best time of year to do it?  How carried away can I get with my pruning saw?  
It takes a bit of planning, but pruning can be an addicting endeavor.  I love nothing more than ignoring the fact that I'm a petite little lady and hefting a newly sawn branch over my shoulder.  My advice for this lovely Sunday afternoon- embrace you inner lumberjack, sharpen those Felcos, and get out there! 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Post of Pots

I was strolling through AW Pottery in Berkeley the other day and got caught up in their flamboyant selections.  Their store near the Coliseum boasts more selection, but this Berkeley store is much calmer and makes for a lovely midday stroll.  Enjoy the show.  The photo above would make a cool low retaining wall, wouldn't it?!  With String of Pearls succulents streaming down the sides.

So expressive, especially when paired with other warm colors.

The pink Cadillac driving, horn-rimmed glasses wearing old lady in me loves kitschy statuary like this.  I have no idea what I'd do with a turquoise cat, but I Want One!

These white urns look like they're supposed to be used formally, but paired with red, orange and turquoise and you'd have a party!  Or a circus, depending on your tastes...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do Saints Make Mistakes? A Question for Catherine & Her Lace

My darling St. Catherine won my heart with her fast growth and luscious gray-green leaves.  However, I feel that she might be a tidge confused.  I planted her around May, when things really started to heat up.  She thrived and doubled and tripled in size (living up to her latin name, Eriogonum giganteum) and threw up a plethora of branching stems just waiting to flower.  Sounds great, right?  Well, this plant certainly takes its time to flower.  Typically, the stems begin to grow in May and suspend anticipation by blooming around July.  My Catherine started sending her branches skyward in July.  The picture below is from around September.

By the end of December, I decided she should probably focus on next year's stems to save her energy, so I cut them back.  While the branches were so lovely, I can't sacrifice next year's blooms!  What do you think? 

Monday, January 4, 2010

State of the Garden Address 2010

(applause)  Thank you.  It's been a momentous year for the garden.  I'd like to review some of our achievements and look to the future in this yearly address.  A year ago, the garden saw the removal of a long-time invader, smothering the land with its thick mindlessness.

  The yard is now free from the evil Juniper shrubs and a struggling democracy of California native plants now strive to provide habitat for a variety of insects and birds.  This little garden has come a long way.  We have not succeeded without setbacks, however and I'd like to take this moment to remember the plants that are no longer with us, namely the four Salvia apianas and the three Mimulus aurantiacus 'Jack.'

May they rest in peace knowing they fought bravely against the hardships of transplanting and fungal diseases.

2010 shows to be a promising year, with a population boom of Clarkias and Mariposa lilies on the horizon.

The garden will see the introduction of creeping Ceanothus and no doubt yet another rash of squirrel-like transplanting.  I'd like to say the worst is over for this hard-fought garden, but I have to disclose that we have only just begun.  I'm introducing space-covering initiatives to secure the future of this garden.  I will be considering in the coming days the proportions of the slow-growing and focal point Manzanita in comparison to its shooting Malacothamnus neighbor.  We will introduce hand-made trellises to support Vitus 'Roger's Red', but we will likely lose some of the plants that helped make this garden possible.  Freedom does not come without struggle, but may we celebrate the truimphs and learn from our losses.  Thank you.  (applause)