Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nature, My Trusty Propagator

I wish I could take at least a little credit for this, but the skilled propagator known as my front garden has wowed me again with a forest of mini-Eriogonum grande rubescens (San Miguel Island Buckwheat) that have seeded amongst their respective mothers.  It's a moment for me to think about the design.  For my own garden, I tend to be a little kitchen-sinky in terms of plant selection, but the garden seems to be enjoying its mix of Clarkias, Dudleyas, and Eriogonums.  Not so much with the Mimulus or countless Calandrinia seeds.  Ok, garden- I hear you!  Although, I hope it won't mind if I sneak in a few Asclepias...  maybe a Ceanothus and whatever I run across on my next nursery trip, and well you know how it is!

If anyone is interested in a few, I have more than enough to share.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plant of the Week: Pink Chapparal Currant


Ribes malvaceum is the princess of the coming Spring reminding us that bare branches and brown clumps of plants will soon become a bounty of flowers buzzing with activity.   She sleeps through late Summer and into Autumn, budding leaves as the rains arrive and sending these long pendulous flower clusters just after we've been surprised by the leaves' abrupt appearance.  And then the flowers open. . .  Sigh.  Such a lovely flash of pink when all else can look so dreary this time of year.  Ribes malvaceum (or its cousin, Ribes sanguineum)  is available in a few varieties, ranging from White Icicle (sanguineum) to Barrie Coates (malvaceum),  a deep crimson which I just spied at the nursery today and cursed the more prepared gardener who had put them all on hold.  Darn!  I love this pink version, however.

ack, overexposed photo!
Sun:  partial shade to sun near the Bay (or coast), partial to full shade farther in.
Soil:  I think you can stretch it a bit- Las Pilitas mentions planting a sanguineum in sand and another in clay with relative success.  But they're pretty good at this stuff.  I'd go with a good combo of the two and call it a day.  Although, I won't tell if you fudge it a bit.
Plant:  after the heat of Summer and before the rains in Winter is best.  
Buy it:  your local nursery can order it if you like, but Las Pilitas' Santa Margarita store has a few in stock or you could try California Flora Nursery, who looks like has a ton of yummy varieties to sample.
Good for:  bird gardens, a bright bit of Spring for us impatient gardeners, shady places, cottage gardens

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gearing Up for Gardening in Wet Weather

This Dudleya does not need rainpants, although the photographer wouldn't mind a pair.

A number of coincidences have led me to search for rain pants.  Mainly, the rain.  Although Town Mouse's great post on how gardeners can limit the size of their carbon footprint and her request to bike more didn't hurt either.  I tend to ride my bike when I can, leaving my tools at the job site so I can pack light.  I'm perfectly happy riding my bike in the rain (especially when it's along the Ohlone Greenway) since I cover myself with a super rain coat with, like 80% wind resistance, although my jeans tend to get pretty soaked.  And that's before any gardening has happened.  Hence, the search at hand.  Here's a few that I've found online.  A must-have is rain pants with drawstrings at the ankles so I can tighten them over my boots to prevent wet socks.

1.  Marmot women's rain pants  seems pretty basic and has pockets.  The reviews are mostly from hikers, though and I have the feeling they're not constantly on their knees in mud and mulch.  If they're anything like my work jeans, they won't be long for this world.

2.  another Marmot women's rain pants shown above.  Same brand, but these seem more pajama-y.  Is this a good thing or a draw-back?

3.  Dennis Kirk Sentinel Rain Pants  Ok, now this is cool.  They're meant for motorcycle riders and for some reason, it appeals to the tough girl in me.  Plus it has the rising waistband at the back to help keep the rain out when crouching over groundcover.  Erm....  I mean lane-splitting down the highway.  I have the feeling that the knees would be a little more reinforced than the lighter-weight ones.  But will it be too heavy to do work in?

So now, dear readers I appeal to you.  When you're out gardening in the rain, what do you look for in a pair of rain pants?  Any suggestions?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Meandering Fence


We took a short jaunt through Tilden Botanic Garden a week ago and stumbled across this whimsical fence.  I like the zig-zag Lincoln Log aspect of it, not to mention the pretty gray-green lichen and mosses covering it that the Town and Country Mice have been raving about lately.  (And for good reason- mosses and lichens are to the garden what that little pinch of chili powder is to a good bowl of chili)  Plus, it looks super easy to put together.  That's my kind of fence!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Fellow garden bloggers- is it just me or is Blotanical taking a few snow days?

Plant of the Week: Violets

Allow me to introduce you to my new favorite non-native (but edible!) plant.  It was the scent, I'm telling you.  As soon as I bumped my nose to the flower, I was hooked.  It's an indescribably beautiful thing, like touching angora for the first time.  Gentle, soft and completely pleasant.  I immediately had it in my mind that I needed half a dozen and that I would candy them and throw a tea party in their honor.  Or violet jellies!  Oh crap, I'm getting too excited about this.  This link talks about various things violets are used for.  There are also native Violas, but I haven't done too much research on them.

I wish I could spend more time telling you all about the growing conditions and where to buy them, but I am in hummingbird mode this week with tons of planting.  Please allow me to zoom away- I'll be hovering around more next week!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sweet Broom for Sale! Buy it Now!

My eyes almost popped out of my head the other day while walking into the "super CVS" on Broadway and 51st.  What is Scotch Broom doing in those 2 gallon containers?!  Are those FOR SALE?! 
For those that might not be familiar, Scotch Broom and many of its relatives is a very invasive plant to California, throwing its seeds with quarterback strength, sending down an impossibly deep taproot, and choking out native habitat. 

I talked to the woman that orders them.  It seemed she was reluctant to place the order, but too many people requested it to ignore the demand.  Apparently, the wholesale nursery claims this is a sterile variety (it's not actually Scotch Broom, but Sweet Broom or Genista spachiana).  And there my research begins...

apologies for the blurry phone photo

Here's a wonderful article from the SF Chronicle about planting invasive plants.  It mentions the sterile varieties of both Brooms and Pampas Grass have not been reliably tested and to not plant them as a precaution.  Hmmm. So maybe not as disastrous, but still not a good idea. 

That led me to the California Invasive Plant Council, which looks like a great resource and includes a number of brochures for various parts of California for the home gardener.  Makes me want to print a bunch of them out and tape them to those plants at CVS!  It looks like they also have a program to work with nurseries to help them find alternatives to invasive plants, called the Plant Right Campaign.  What a great idea! 

If folks are requesting these invasive plants, there needs to be just as many folks requesting that nurseries stop selling them.  Next time you see some suspicious characters masquerading as innocent garden plants, let the nursery-people know that you'd prefer they carry safer alternatives. 

And also, spread the word to your friends and neighbors who aren't plant geeks and volunteer with your local CNPS or habitat restoration group to help pull these suckers out of our wildlands. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Too Many Valentines, Not Enough Tissue Paper

Happy Valentine's Day!  I wish I could have made a million of these to send to all of you, but they were quite labor intensive!  If the tab on the right is pulled out, the bee will fly into the flower, enjoying the bounty of Spring blossoms.   I'm sending the warmest of wishes for a happy Springtime with oodles of lovely flowers!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Lunches: Carrot and Cumin Soup


Here's a cozy soup to make for a wintertime lunch.  It's a snap to make, so you won't be wasting time in the kitchen in the middle of the day.  
A bunch of carrots
A couple cups of chicken or veggie broth
Some water
1 teaspoon or so cumin
Dash of chili flakes or a mild chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
Plain yogurt or sour cream for serving

Wash and cut the carrots in smallish chunks, 1" long or so.  Set in a pot on the stove under medium heat with the stock and water if you're afraid of the stock tasting too concentrated.  Add the cumin and chili and simmer until the carrots are fully cooked and even slightly mushy.  Get out the stick blender and bravely smush the carrots without sending hot splatters across the kitchen.  (You could use a food processor I guess, but where's your sense of adventure?)  Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve with a dallop of yogurt or sour cream and a nice crusty slice of bread with butter. 
Variation:  substitute the cumin and chili for a tablespoon or so of fresh ginger.  Mmmm!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Plant of the Week: Beach Strawberry

It's the time of the year where the sweet, demure little Fragaria chiloensis transforms into a creeping, spreading, unstoppable force!  You don't know where you'll find her next, but don't worry- for the most part that's a good thing!  After all the rain, she's waking up and stretching her arms through the garden, popping out a wee white flower here and there just to remind you how great she is.  It's so nice to have a little spot of light in the shady gardens she prefers to be in.  While the little red fruits that follow don't have the flavor you'd wish they had, I'm sure the birds and squirrels don't mind the snack.  There's also Fragaria californica sp. vesca, which apparently has tastier fruits and is better suited to clay soils.  If she does get carried away with her above-ground runners, snip them back and either replant the cuttings somewhere else, or toss them in the compost bin.

Soil:  Sand to loamy clay
Sun:  Dappled shade to shade
Plant:  It will get better established well if you plant before the winter rain.  It will probably need a spritz or two of water during the hottest summer days while it's getting its bearings
Buy it:  For some reason, buying Fragarias can be tricky.  I checked all the usual suspects, but I find only Las Pilitas is carrying it right now.  What gives?
Good for:  dry, shady gardens, a quick groundcover, creating a tea party atmosphere of little white flowers and red berries for birds and other wildlife to enjoy. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ma'am! Put the Landscape Cloth Down and Step Away From the Garden!

I love sheet-mulching and I am here to spread the sheet-mulching gospel.  Seriously, it saves the back muscles and frees up the green bin.  Sheet-mulching is a first step to preparing the garden for native plantings.  It's pretty rare to be starting with bare dirt, free of invasive seeds lying in wait, so sheet-mulching is a way to ensure that the new plants aren't surrounded by the enemy two months after they're planted.  Basically, instead of digging the existing stuff out, it gets smothered  with cardboard or newspaper and topped with a layer of mulch.  They won't know what hit 'em.  Not only that, but as it kills the invasives underneath, the cardboard and mulch break down and amend the soil.  Let's take a peep at a garden I recently converted.


The bare dirt once hosted juniper bushes and that lawn is just too darn impractical.  Water restrictions, weekly maintenance in the warmer months, and the constant stream of fertilizer needed to keep it alive just doesn't make sense. (I'm preaching to the choir, aren't I?)  

So, the next step is to smother the existing vegetation.  Massive rolls of cardboard can be purchased from Monahan Paper or collect cardboard boxes (newspaper works, too.  It might take awhile to get enough of it, though).  Before beginning it's important to check the cardboard for waxy surfaces, ouchy staples or other stuff that won't break down naturally.
Now, the edges of the garden will probably end up with weeds or lawn peeking through over time, so if there's a lawn or weeds, it should be removed along the border.  For the lawn in this garden, I cut through the turf with a utility blade 1' away from the curb all the way down and used the shovel to roll it off.  It wasn't too hard because the lawn was infested with white grub worms (ew, ew, ew!), who weaken the roots.  I used the cut off pieces to fill in depressions in other parts of the garden, making sure the turf was root-side up just as extra insurance that it doesn't try to establish itself again.

Then comes the cardboard.  Setting them down, the pieces need to overlap by 6-12" and can be secured  with U-stakes used for drip irrigation.  Double layering the cardboard can be a good idea if it involves removing ivy, oxalis, or other troublemakers, taking care not to also bury any sprinkler heads.

Once the garden looks like a strange cardboard moonscape, it's time to install the drip irrigation lines if that's part of the plan or proceed to the mulching.  I use shredded red cedar, as it looks "natural", its composition helps it stay in place and not wash away, and most importantly it smells so nice when I'm working with it.  For plants that live in drier climes (like the Salvia apiana that probably hates me right now with all this rain), a gravel mulch might be considered.  A 3-4" depth is mandatory!  Too little will render the whole process useless and too much will bury the new plantings without providing them any extra benefit.  The folks at the mulch place can be pretty helpful when arranging for the delivery.  (especially if the square footage of the area has already been calculated)  It's pricey, but an important investment when you consider the amount of weeding that would need to happen without it.

A less expensive solution is contacting a tree service company, who will gladly dump their chippings, but there's always a risk that it might have come from diseased trees or eucalyptus which has icky toxins that don't mesh well with other plants.  It's aesthetically messier, but hey, it's free!  Either way, mulch is a necessity to help conserve water and amend the soil over time.  (One note regarding native bees:  try to leave an open patch or two for the native bees to tunnel around and make their homes.  Apparently, they aren't fans of tunneling through mulch.)


Next, lay out the plants and start the planting process (Yay!)  With gloves to protect from the splinters, push away the mulch and cut into the cardboard with a utility knife or hori-hori tool.  Plant and you're done!

I'm hoping this little landscape will fill-in in no time.  After planting, I scattered Clarkia and Ca Poppy seeds which will either give the local birds a tasty snack or will provide a colorful filler while the Muhlenbergias and Leymus condensatus' get established. 

Phew!  What a wordy post!  Hope it's helpful and prevents at least one person from buying that horrible black weed cloth or plastic sheeting!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Skipping Through the Lumber Yard

I just returned from my morning adventure, roaming about a new playground.  If your idea of a playground is a big, weird lot in the middle of industrial wasteland punctuated by piles of random logs, lumber and a doggie that wants you to throw the stick just one more time, then we're on the same page.  Green Waste Recycle Yard combines tree care/removal with lumber milling in a most fantastical way.  It's a great alternative to reclaimed lumber if you're not into the rustic "my saw just hit a 40 year old nail" kind of thing. 

I picked up some redwood pieces I'll be incorporating into stepping stones (or sticks?) and had a chance to wander around amidst the tractor fumes and steaming mulch piles.  Can't wait to dream up some projects that will give me an excuse to go back.  I had to check myself for drool while eyeing the giant, very dangerous milling tools, including the bandsaw of whose blades are shown above.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How "Sweet"! Honest Scrap Award

Rebecca Sweet at Gossip in the Garden has nominated me for an Honest Scrap Award.  Not sure where the name comes from, but basically it's where you list 10 things about yourself that y'all probably don't know already.  Then, 7 of my favorite bloggers are selected to continue the legacy.  I've never been very good at following Fleetwood Mac's advice (never break the chain), so I think I'd prefer to see this as a great way to share some of my favorite planty blogs.  But first, the confessions!

1.  I squish slugs with my bare hands.  It's kind of gross, but when you're already covered with dirt it really doesn't matter.

2.  Despite the fact that I attended fancy-pants art school, we ended up having to get a colorist to help us pick paint for our house.  It's embarrassing, but it really worked out.  If anyone has a purpose for quarts of some wierd colors I bought pre-colorist, I'm your girl!

3.  When I'm working in the garden, I usually like to listen to the sounds going on around me, but at home I'll compulsively listen to NPR.  It's dorky, but I always look forward to Fresh Air and Political Junky on Talk of the Nation. 

image found on

4.  I'm so totally addicted to watching Mad Men!  We don't have cable, so we depend on watching the episodes when they come out on DVD.  I was so crushed when we got to the last episode of season 2!

5.  It's an off day if I don't have at least 2 cups of tea.  Wintertime lends itself to black teas, like Earl Gray, but I'm having cravings lately for some Lapsang Souchong, or smoked tea.  It's intense and the only tea I take with cream.

6.  I have a weakness for ribbon.  There's a full drawer of it in my office, but I can't bring myself to use most of it, since it's so pretty!

7.  Our bathroom is pink and green.  When we first moved in, we would check our friends' reactions upon being confronted by the colors.  Aaaaah!  Honestly, though?  It sold me.

8.  Every year, some friends and I get together and make Valentine's Day cards.  It's one of my favorite holidays because sometimes you need an excuse to peel glue off of your fingertips and play with glitter!

9.  I'm so horrible to my tools!  I have a very dirt-encrusted hori-hori right now, developing a thin layer of rust.  The Felcos are hanging in there, but the pruning saw needs a new blade.  Sigh.

10.  The reason I focus on California natives?  Part of it is pragmatic, but a good chunk of it is because I have a hard time narrowing things down.  The native plant palette keeps me in check because there's so many amazing plants out there! 

And here's a list of blogs I never fail to check in on:

Town Mouse & Country Mouse:  a perfect yin-yang of native plant research and exploration
Curbstone Valley Farm:  Clare has a way of making even slime molds look like the most beautiful thing in the world.
Cactus Jungle's Cactus Blog:  a lovely nursery, a great blog for everything cactus, served with a side of  mild snark.
Paradis Express:  a world of wonder.  If my mouth isn't hanging open in amazement, I'm usually drooling.
Garden Porn:  the Queen of high-end landscape design.
An Alameda Garden:  the tagline says it all:  Where the soil is sandy and the digging is easy.
Rooted in California:   gorgeous photography from a native nut with an envy-producing green thumb
Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel:  more drool-inducing gorgeousness.  Alice's prose makes for a lyrical journey through gardens around the world.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Curves and Angles: A New Trellis for the Wall


I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this one, but here's the latest trellis!  This one is for my front garden, but is #1 in a line of trellises I'll be offering come Spring (gee, that's soon).  You might remember when I took the army of clamps off the center piece in this earlier post.   So without further ado, I present the latest trellis:


It's a fun one since it involves bending wood (and bending wood involves lots of chances for disaster such as a 10ft long piece of drainage pipe filled with hot water balancing on the counter.  Oh, the suspense!) and doing some Japanese style joints at odd angles.  I'm still trying to decide how to mount it onto the wall, so any advice would be most welcome.  It was inspired by the wrought iron railing that borders the front steps and entry patio of the house.  Soon enough it will have a twin on the other side of the garage and a Vitus californica 'Roger's Red' clambering up it.  Heck, maybe I could get a Dutchman's Pipevine into the mix as well! 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Buckeyes vs. Bees

So it all started last Spring when I saw the buckeyes in bloom and I.  Had.  To.  Have.  One.  So I planted one right after Christmas and it's already playing peek-a-boo with it's leaves.  Then my brother gave me an awesome book about Backyard Beekeeping from this great little shop in Sacramento.  Cool!  Then, I remembered that Aesculus californica pollen and nectar is poisonous to European honeybees.  But, I asked, how poisonous?  Does the bee realize it's bad and avoid it or does he naively sip away to his own doom?   Oh, what's a urban farmer/native gardener to do when she wants it all?  Well, here's what I turned up in terms of internet research:

This article by CNPS doesn't discuss the Aesculus/bee relationship extensively, but it does provide a fun, short read about the relationship between insects and native plants.

This page talks about the symptoms of honeybees that can't help themselves and partake of the pollen/nectar.  There aren't disturbing pictures, but I did feel very bad for the bees after reading it.  Sensitive folks take note before clicking on the link.

And finally, Bingo!  A page that concisely answers my question.  Buckeyes greatly benefit the native insect world, but if you have many other blooming plants for the European bees, they'll choose healthier options.

Of course, since this is the internets, I take this advice with a grain of salt.  It is a start, however.  It would be great to hear Gordon Frankie's opinion.  He runs the Urban Bee Research project and I keep meaning to take one of his classes.  Can anyone else weigh in on this subject?