Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SF Garden Show: the Victory Garden

Updated to give credit also to Garden Fare, who co-designed the Victory garden.  Thanks, Leslie!

I have to admit that the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was pretty cool, but I think that the best part was meeting Clare and her husband of Curbstone Valley Farm fame.  It's so satisfying to meet a virtual friend in person!

We walked around the show and ended up chatting for quite some time with the nice folks at Star Apple Edible Gardens and Garden Fare about their Victory garden.  Super nice folks!

The chicken house in particular really caught my eye (shown above).  Chicken houses have historically fallen into the utilitarian column, but Star Apple decided to use it as an element of the design with exotic yet relatively easy to execute decoration.  It's almost ark-like!  Unfortunately, it's little hinged wooden roof piqued my curiosity and I just had to lift it up (you can't take me anywhere...), thereby putting me nose to beak with a little hen trying to get some rest in the hay.  Sorry!  I'm not sure who was more embarrassed- me or the chicken! 

Photo lifted from San Jose Garden Examiner and taken by S. Smith

The planted area was a real treat, reminding us that edible and beautiful are not mutually exclusive.  Ribbons of marigolds and violas danced in undulating rows while herbs, lettuces and cabbages filled in the spaces.  Fruit trees and trellises of exuberant vines observed it all from the center of the beds.  I like their concept of using edibles as landscaping instead of hiding them in that thrown together box in the corner of the yard.  It celebrates the beauty of the plant, and you can eat it! 

Little touches, like wooden spoons as plant labels really made the garden memorable.  It oozed in cuteness, but also practicality.  It's so exciting to see that growing your own food has almost become a standard in backyard gardening.

Have I mentioned their business card?  Most gorgeous card, like ever!  Overall, this garden landed in my favorites list- it didn't have to be gimmicky to get my attention and its pragmatic beauty has inspired me to get a move-on with my seed starting adventures. The heart and passion involved in creating this really showed- and its infectiousness really spread throughout the show-goers gawking their way through.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SF Garden Show: Natives 3.0

I'm the newest member of Tierra Seca Landscape's fan club!  Natives?  Check!  Contemporary and thoughtful design?  Check!  Stuff that glows?  Check! 

What I love about this design is that it doesn't advertise the fact that the plantings are native.  The natives are only a piece of the full landscape, bringing all the elements together cohesively.  It also doesn't fall into the "if it's native, it must look wild" stereotype. 

Brian Swope, the designer plays with topography in Natives 3.0, the name of this garden.  Softly angled ramps meet to a conversation area in the center of the design, adding visual interest and emphasizing the planted beds surrounding it, which rise at slightly steeper angles.  Personally, I could have done without the painted yellow, red and blue walls, but the additional color helps to bring a festive atmosphere.
The planted areas are not left entirely to the plants, but are incorporated into the design by raising the focal points, in this case some gorgeous pines, onto plain wooden boxes.  It serves as a wonderful reminder that you aren't on a hike in the woods.  This is a backyard where the human element plays harmoniously  with the natural. 

River stones ring the perimeter of the garden, grounding the landscape before it ascends up to the patio area.  Angles and topography are once again referenced in the eye-catching, glowing cones, serving as beacons of the landscape.  A shot of water bubbles energetically at the surface of this cone forest, cast in a fanciful blue light.
The plants used in this garden included lupine, blue-eyed grass, fuscia flowering gooseberry, and bay laurel, among many others.
I liked that this garden had an ambiance of playfulness without looking like a Ronald McDonald fun house.  I also appreciated that Brian used the opportunity to create something more avant garde(n), which is more than what many of the other exhibitors accomplished.  Apparently, the economy seemed more of a theme than anything else and most gardens were pretty and well executed, but not much more than that.  Pardon my cattiness, but sticking dinosaurs into a pretty landscape doesn't inspire me.  (That garden was really pretty, though!)  But what did you think?  Am I asking too much to have gardens that challenge the viewer/participant?

Monday, March 29, 2010

SF Garden Show: Stuff in Bowls

Goodness gracious, I'm on an adrenaline and sensory overload after the SF Flower and Garden Show.  I'll be posting images of the show throughout the week, but my lack of focus today has led to a photo tour of little details that I found pretty cool.

The image above is a detail of a sculpture by who else, but Paul Discoe of Live Edge LLC, although most folks know him from his other company Joinery Structures.  I love his attention to detail and his use of Japanese hand tools.  

Leave it to Artefact Design & Salvage to find something rad and put a bunch of it in a neat little bowl; gold and silver skulls in this instance.  I can see this going rock star or zombie garden.  Ooooh, zombie garden...

 If you've seen anything about the show, you've probably already seen the succulent cube garden.  Well, the cube certainly floored me, but here's a little-noticed detail ringing the pond around it.  I guess they're stone- small bowls with lights inside.  Tumbled glass softens the light and adds a mysterious hidden treasure element.  Sean Stout and James Pettigrew of Organic Mechanics are the people responsible.

Continuing on the theme of stuff in bowls, here's a little shot of the Papillon Pad by Mariposa Garden Design and Thomas Pedemonte.  Hanging ceramic bowls drip with succulents.  Very festive! 

I'll highlight a few gardens next week and relive the adventures, but first I'll have to come down from this garden high!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Plant of the Week: California Lilac

When you run into someone who says native plants all look half dead and boring, show them a Julia Phelps Ceanothus in full regalia.  Oh yeah?!  Take that!  She's gorgeous!  Plant a Ceanothus and you've extended an invitation to the native bee population.  Have a picnic anytime, guys!  Quail and other birds love the seeds and butterflies often drop in for a sip of nectar, too.  The amazing thing about Ceanothus is its versatility.  You can go for a tree-like specimen, a small shrub, even a low-growing ground cover.  And as if that weren't enough, the variegated 'Diamond Heights' ground cover will stop people in their tracks. 

Ceanothus have variable growing requirements (at least some varieties you can fudge more than others) so I'm generalizing here.  Please refer to "California Native Plants for the Garden", Las Pilitas Nursery or your trusted plant guide for more detailed info.

Sun:  Full sun to part shade.  Some varieties work great under oaks
Soil:  For the most part well-drained.  It's best to pick one that's native to your general area.  No beach-loving Ceanothus' in hardpan, please!
Plant:  Preferably before some rain.  Ceanothus don't like summer water.  No, seriously... don't do it!  If you plant before it rains, the storms will do the work for you without you having to worry about over watering.  Mulch well and you're done!
Buy it:  Ceanothus are so lovely that any nursery would be mad not to carry at least one variety!  Click on the Las Pilitas link above to get the skinny on what's out there or just ask the nice folks at the nursery.  Ignore them if they say they're short lived- they must have over-watered and made the Ceanothus angry.
Good for:  a flowery focal point, habitat garden (that includes deer sometimes, so best to keep them out of harm's way for a few years), the neglected garden, cottage gardens, anyone who has the blues

Again, these are general descriptions, so check out the particular variety before paying attention to what I'm saying!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rest in Peace Little Allen

How sad that we rarely get to examine hummingbirds closely unless they've passed away.  While I wish this little one was still flitting about, it's exciting to see his feathers and markings (and little hummingbird feet!).  It's an Allen's Hummingbird, by the way and my client found him on her porch.  Poor little one. 

I notice that I'm focusing on fauna more than flora lately, but then again I haven't been to the SF Garden Show yet, either!  If you haven't purchased your tickets, do so here.  I'll be at the California Native Plant Society table this Saturday from 5:30 to 8:00 spreading the native plant gospel so stop by if you happen to find yourself there!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Swarming Bees!!

Here I thought I was so cool yesterday, seeing a young Red Tail Hawk getting chased and pestered by a blackbird whilst working on the other side of the tunnel...  Wow, so much more interface with nature out here, I thought.  Then I got the phone call from my neighbor in Oakland- a swarm of honeybees had found themselves in her front yard.  (!!!)  I dashed home to witness the spectacle and sure enough, bigger and swarmier than I could ever have imagined. 
She found a beekeeper online that specialized in swarms and we prepared ourselves for an experience.

First he trimmed the vine to gain better access to the bees.  Apparently, this is the season for bees to swarm.  Basically, a new queen is born and the hive ain't big enough for the both of 'em.  The queen searches for a new home and her loyal subjects follow her and help keep her safe until the new location has been selected.  While Eileen and I thought it looked like the most gigantic colony ever, our new beekeeping friend said it was of average size.  Oh...

Next came a spritz or two of water to dampen the bees' wings to keep them from flying and to help them stick together a bit.  Then, into the box!  The swarm didn't quite get in there all in one shot, so he left the box for a few hours to give them all a chance to make their way inside.

I'm so happy to know that this beekeeper cares for his hives without the use of chemicals, like mite sprays.  Happy bees in their happy new home. How exciting- I was talking in exclamation points all evening! 

Our next natural order of operations included walking across the street into the liquor store to get all the background information on the swarm from Muhammad, the eyes and ears of Idora Park.  Talk about interface with nature!  There's a swarm of bees right next to the bus stop!  Yet another reason why I love Oakland.

A big, huge thanks is in order to Eileen, who graciously shared the experience with me.  Coolest ever!

I'm wondering if the way Steven, the beekeeper, captured the bees was the same way any other beekeeper would.  So much to learn!  Does anyone have swarming experience to share?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Quick Bit of Ephemera

Remember those Halloween centerpieces I was so proud of?  I was struggling for a bit to figure out how to incorporate those plants into my client's garden, but also to carry on the found object-ness (it is too a word!) of the piece as well.  Out came the baling wire and a few twists and turns later, a tiny succulent cage emerged from the tangled pieces.

It was a snap to make- Take a small 4" square or round pot- the kind that herbs and veggie starts come in and loosely shape lengths of wire around the form.  Wrap a small piece of wire around them all in the middle at the bottom of the pot and shape the top pieces of wire as you wish.  I gathered them together and did some curly-cues.  Stuff green moss between the wire and the pot.  I highly recommend planting the pot before closing all the wires or better yet, using one empty pot to create the form and one planted pot to insert in the cage.  I made one this time, but I think the finished piece will feature three of these total hanging by fishing line from a small cherry tree.  (When hanging anything from a tree, be sure to have something cushioning the string so that it doesn't cut into the branch of the tree over time)

Speaking of time, I can't wait to see these when they've rusted to a lovely burnt orange.   

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's a Ladybug Picnic!

Hey, does anyone remember Sesame Street's Ladybug Picnic song?  One of my favorite Sesame Street skits!

I can't help but tiptoe outside and check on the progress of the garden.  The latest saga?  The ladybird beetles have arrived!  They've made lovely little apartment houses out of my Eriogonum giganteums, making it pretty difficult to go without finding one.  I'm fascinated by all the different species, but my favorite seems to be the smaller ones with no spots and a deep, lustrous sheen.  It reminds me of the fancy paint jobs you see on motorcycles!  I'll hazard a guess and say it might be a Cycloneda Munda?  The white markings don't look the same, but who knows?

I'm pretty sure this one's a Coccinella californica.  I love that black stripe!

I know I should have respected this couple's privacy in their intimate moment, but how could I resist such a shot?  Are they Coccinella septempunctuata?

Of course, the only reason these ladies make my garden their home is because I've got aphid ranches galore.  It also helps that I don't use any icky pesticides to scare them away.  (Even the safer soaps or neem oil are meant to kill bugs, including ladybugs, so I try to let nature take its course unless the situation gets too dire) 

Are you noticing the ladybugs enjoying our sunshiney weather?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Pat's Day, California style

Quick, it's St. Patrick's Day!  We need greenery!  How about a nice little corsage to wear throughout the day to prevent would-be pinchers?  One leaf of Eriogonum grande rubescens, one baby Malocothamnus leaf and a couple blades of Muhlenbergia rigens.  Add a ribbon, a pin and a small puncture wound from adhering it and you've got yourself instant California-Irish style.

As for plant of the week, how could I choose anything other than Redwood Sorrel or Oxalis oregana.  However, I have no experience growing this cutie- Redwood forest-like conditions?  Feel free to add your planting tips in the comments below. 

I'd love to do a proper corned beef and cabbage dinner tonight, but I'll probably just have a beer and make Irish Soda Bread to celebrate my 1/8th Scotch-Irish DNA.  Does that make me 1/16th Irish? 

Whatever your background, I wish you all a happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pink Succulents From Outter Space

I've got a soft spot for pink rosette-style succulents, but this beauty bowled me over!  I planted her last summer in what is apparently the perfect spot- full, indirect afternoon sun.  I planted it when it was 8" and now it's inching closer to 2'.  It's twin gets more direct sun, but is certainly holding her own.  She sent up the most amazing flower stalks that were the same pink/purple color with dark ruby flowers.  Hummingbirds rejoice!  Planted with Ceanothus 'Diamond Heights', and it's otherworldly.  Well, when you have a photo with decent lighting, anyway.  My apologies. 

I'm going to feebly hazard a guess and say they might be Echeveria 'Afterglow.'  Please correct me if I'm wrong. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Raspberry Trellis

Here I go again, showing off!  It's a small trellis I constructed from salvaged fencing for the garden I bragged about last week.  Soon enough, raspberries will not be able to keep their canes off of it! 

I secured the fence to the structure by drilling holes in 2 x 2's, then ripping them on the tablesaw (that's "cut them in half long-ways" in wood speak) and gluing them back together with the fence sandwiched inbetween.  The bottom support has a channel and holes at the bottom for drainage and also to loop thinner gauge wire around the fence and back down through the hole in the support to secure it all.  I needed something to anchor the wire at the bottom so it wouldn't fall through the hole, so what else to use besides buttons!  They aren't visible in the finished piece, but it was a fun detail that I enjoyed adding.  Pardon the fluorescent lighting and poor photo...

It's nice to give new life to old, discarded materials.  Now if only I had the time to do that to all the other cool old stuff I've got stored away!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bulbwatch 2010: Daffodil Edition

Well, another day of rain and another opportunity to sneak in a post before the weekend!  Here's what's been popping up around here lately.  The photo above is "Jenny".  I like how she's not all white, but not glaringly neon either.  A gentle hint of color to remind us of Spring. 

And here we have my reliable, rain-kissed "Thalia".  So airy and delicate in appearance, but they've reproduced quite nicely in a wine barrel.  I tend to go for the Cyclamineus Daffodils with reflexed petals- they're so expressive!  It's just a little taste of bulb frenzy while I await the arrival of my native bulbs- Calachortus and Brodaiea.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Plant of the Week: Island Alum Root

Yes, I realize that I crowned Heuchera micrantha "Plant of the Week" mere months ago (at least I could have sworn I did, but can't find the post to link to it!), but when I arrived in this garden, it asked me so very politely to be included again with its dainty show of lace-like flower stalks.  How could I refuse such a sweet request?  I mean, look at her!  A lovely addition to the shade garden and green all year 'round, Heuchera will delight a native cottage-style garden with no real fuss.  I'm sure many of you have seen the hybridized Heucheras at local nurseries- same plant, only in shades of purples and bronzes.  They'd be wonderful mixed in with this one, but my experience has told me that these native varieties give the best performance.

Sun:  No!  Shade or part shade will do nicely.  Keep her away from scorchy afternoon sun.
Soil:  The one shown above is in medium clay, I'd shy away from the sandier side of things
Plant:  Buy them in 4" containers- they're usually the same size as the one gallons and will grow in pretty fast in the right conditions.  Any time of year should be fine for starting out.
Buy it:  At Annie's Annuals or Oaktown Native Nursery in Alameda.  Also, try micrantha's cousin Heuchera maxima- another very lovely native that Las Pilitas graciously tells us all about (none in stock, however)
Good for:  shade gardens, cottage style gardens, dreamy floral arrangements, wildlife gardens, deer-prone gardens

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Garden For the Senses

As promised, here's a few more photos of the garden I just completed.  My client and her darling canine companion were looking for something that could allow for proper romping and fetching, but also a place to provide cut flowers and veggies with floral scents wafting through every once in while.  In other words, a peaceful spot to entertain or just slowly wander and enjoy the surroundings.


First, let me give you perspective on what we were dealing with.    An ivy-infested fence bordered one side and actually encroached on 4' of backyard!  A small sidewalk path also encroached needlessly into the space.  A dead lemon tree still stood to attention and seemed to be memorialized with borders of red bricks sunken into the ground.  The side of the house was ringed with older shrubs, but didn't offer any privacy to the windows above their canopies. 

So here's the fun part.  The area in the foreground above became a large grassy area, punctuated by redwood steps.  Lemon verbenas, roses and a new lemon tree watch from the sidelines.

The bricks were re-used as mini-retaining walls for the beds of Ribes and Douglas Iris and as a primitive path to the new compost bin.  A row of Pacific Wax Myrtles, Abutilons and Philadelphus will over time help create a new privacy buffer where the ivy once was.  The patch of dirt in the photo is now sprouting lettuces and will over time be surrounded by Chamomile and Strawberry.  The redwood steps draw a line through this L-shaped garden and join these disparate pieces together. 

Airy trellises surround the blank expanse of the house will create green walls of Cecil Brunner roses and Kiwis. 

Now the only thing to do is wait for everything to grow in, although it looks like the garden is already being enjoyed, since I received this photo the other day.

I'm so happy it's in and can't wait to see the progress!  A special thanks to Christian from Misty Morning Gardens, who took my design and carried it out to a "T" and my client, Hannah who guided the design process in wonderful ways I could not have imagined (not to mention baked us cookies while we worked!  Am I lucky or what?!).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sneak Peek: The Fragrant, Edible Garden

I'm buzzing about today, so don't have time to blog and flit about my favorite garden blogs.  I didn't want to leave you hanging, though and thought I'd drop in and leave a "sneak-peek" to a spectacular garden I just completed.  Well, at least it will be completed when the tomatoes are planted!

Redwood steps settle into a lawn of Agrostis pallens.  Native sod, how cool is that?!  It's already looking gracefully floppy.  More to come!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Plant of the Week: Buttercups


Perhaps it's best to think of Ranunculus californicus as a healthy alternative to the mustard you see blooming in open fields.  Mustard is lovely this time of year, but it has a tendency to run rampant and choke out most of everything else.  Too much of a good thing, in my opinion.  Buttercups, however wave little yellow fairy wands through the emerging grasses, a little here, a little there.  Nothing says meadow better than a smattering of Buttercups!  We found them on the road to Borges Ranch, a delightful farm to visit this time of year.  


Soil:  Believe it or not... Clay!  Glorious clay!
Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Plant:  In the Fall, before it emerges from its Summer nap or now if you can't help yourself!
Buy it:  Annie's Annuals, Oaktown Native Nursery in Alameda, or Native Here might have a few, but this note was what came up on their catalog page.  I'm sure you'd come home with something!
Good for:  Stubborn clay soils where you'd like a little meadow, wildlife gardens (the seeds are edible!), a mustard alternative, viewing far away and close up

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Harbingers of Spring

After taking home some branches of a cherry tree that my neighbor and I pruned, the memory of a Winter semester in Stockholm came back to me.  Sweden has many inexplicable traditions that my friends there adhered faithfully, yet without awareness of the history, symbols or meaning behind them.  I seldom argued- how can you not participate in cinnamon roll day!?

One such tradition can be found at the corner flower markets around this time of year, where bundles of bare sticks have a colored feather tied onto the ends of each twig in monochromatic bunches.  All I could get out of my friends is that it had something to do with Easter. 

As a California girl lonely for the color green in her snowy environs, I kept my bundle long past the holiday and allowed them to leaf out.  It was as if a small tree had materialized in my little room- reassurance that Spring had arrived.

With that memory in my mind, I've waited patiently for the sticks to leaf and bloom in our dining room and they have not disappointed me.  While I don't have snow to contend with, it's always nice to bring the outside in when raindrops and chills keep me away from the garden.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Upon Awakening a Slumbering Dragon


Imagine my surprise to come across this slumbering lady as I tugged out a dying Azalea.  Oh!  Hello.  .  .  I snapped a few photos and gently moved her to a quieter and protected area.  The warmth of my (gloved) hands must have woken her a bit, as she lumbered away as soon as I set her down.  Sorry, Western Fence Lizard!  

We perused various California lizard pictures last night and I immediately became fascinated with our native reptilian population.  I can't wait to come across more of our native lizards and (non-poisonous) snakes!  A tarantula would be pretty memorable, too (although not a reptile).  What have you come across whilst gardening?