Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hangover in the Garden

You know the kind of night out where the next morning you wipe the crust out of your eyes, grab your head and wonder what.  in.  the.  world.  happened?*  Well, that explains the current state of the front garden.  The photo above shows the garden in full party mode.  Yeah, more Clarkias!  This is amazing!  Par-tay!

And now?  Well, see for yourself...

Aaah, make the pain stop!  You'd think that as a garden designer, I would have pages of sketches and scaled drawings detailing what goes where, charts to indicate bloom times and colors, etc.  I do those kinds of things for all my clients, but as the shoemaker's children run barefoot, my garden sits in the summer sun helpless.  Dried Clarkia petals litter the ground as a reminder of the swell time and I promise myself that this is the last garden hangover.  Never again!  Sketches and drawings, trips to the nursery and thoughtful transplantings on the way. 

*Special note to Grandma:  I don't really know what that's like, I'm just guessing what that's like...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Show and Tell: Tea Party Terrace

I've been sketching up a storm lately and just had to share this one.  We decided to go ahead with the other design, so this one will just live in my mind for the time being.  The privacy screens have frosted glass panels and open spaces to allow for light, but to obstruct the view of neighboring houses.  The dry-laid stone terrace has Armeria maritima popping through the spaces and Penstemons, grasses and succulents create a colorful border.  Anyone for a tea party?

Mystery Mud-Dauber

And who might you be?  I've seen this one flying around a few times and the orange body combined with the thread waist is just lovely!  I guess it's some kind of mud dauber?  Whatever it is, it really enjoys hanging around the Eriogonum giganteum 'St. Catherine's Lace' and doesn't like its photo taken! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Plant of the Week: Britton's Liveforever

When the annuals start looking crispy, Dudleya brittonii stays cool as a cucumber.  A sweet rosette of gray-white leaves, this succulent glows radiantly when paired with grasses and small-leaved natives.  From Baja, she's sort of pushing the boundary of CA native, so not on the wishlist of the purists out there.  Pink tinged stems rise Winter to Spring, bringing little yellow flowers with them.

Sun:  Part shade or morning sun is ideal.
Soil:  very well drained, containers with lots of lava rock are recommended if you're worried about garden soil conditions
Plant:  Anytime
But it:  Cactus Jungle!  Great nursery with bonus whippets.  I also wonder if the Dry Garden carries them...
Good for:  rock gardens, succulent gardens, white & gray gardens, contemporary gardens, planting into rock walls, adding alternative textures

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sea Scenes on the Seashore

Asilomar, on the Monterey Peninsula sits at the edge of the world, buttressed by kelp forests and craggy pools filled with fluttering sea urchins.  An exploration at low tide yielded eye candy to give my brain a sugar coma!  The dunes surrounding the beach received careful restoration and became a moonscape of soft gray-greens and off-beiges.  Pops of pink Sand Verbena and yellow Lupines looked florescent against the theme of neutral tones.

Life imitating cartoons?  That's what this seaweed seems to be doing, nestled in rocks with mussels.  I love their chunky "leaves" and it has me thinking of the fun (and tribulations) of creating a seaweed garden!

A trio of miniature sea urchins sat in the mouth of an anemone.  I'd never seen any this tiny and the patterns of the shells look almost Elizabethan.

Snarls of seaweed dotted the sand and I couldn't get over the colors and textures.  Who knew that yellow-brown could look so lovely when paired with cola and green?  (Is that why the '70s happened?)

Is this a limpet?  The memory of my 6th grade tide pool class fails me.  The shape evokes the pine cones on trees twenty yards away.  I love how this and the mussel colonies convey a message of community through adversity as the waves crash against them. 

Unfortunately, the photos of the little red and green crabs gurgling very threatening bubbles at me and the pools of anemones, starfish and hermit crabs didn't convey the richness of the experience.  All the more reason to take a day trip again!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inspiration: Musical Compositions From the Creek

Imagine a wee bit of an adventure, roaming a creek bed and recording the sounds discovered there.  Part documentary, part art exploration, I tagged along with my friend Hugh to record the sounds of the creek in Leona Canyon.  I can't find the name of the creek now, but it does seem to be part of the Sausal Creek watershed.  Here's a fabulous teacher's guide that discusses the native plants found there, along with information about the Native American tribes who lived there.

Hugh has embarked on a special project of recording the sounds of the creeks in Oakland and composing pieces from & inspired by them.  Such a different experience for me to focus my attentions on a sense I rarely use when hiking- sound!

 I watched in wonder as Hugh "tuned" a creek with a special under-water recording device.  Moving stones in and out of the flow, he composed a fascinating sequence of sounds that had me mesmerized!  

Inspired by his project, I hopped about with new eyes- in the last few years it seems I have focused more on recording rather than discovering.  I found myself fascinated by the shadows of the waterbugs, the colors of the leaves glistening in the creek and the silhouette of hemlock flowers against the sky.

The shadow of fern fronds on a creek-side boulder suggest a frilly lace collar being dried and starched for the next tea party.

Beneath the dried and windblown grasses, little caches of fuzzy seed heads seemed like an ideal place for a bunny to be napping in the sunshine.

So much hemlock growing along the trail, which through the lens of a native plant geek is a horrible shame, but with the artists' eye they majestically filled the sky with pattern.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Good Things Come in Prosciutto-Wrapped Packages

Remember last summer's melon and prosciutto tapas dish?  Ready for version 2.0?  A monstrous bag of figs from my friend Hannah's tree led me to ricotta, which led me to prosciutto. 

Slice figs in half, spoon ricotta cheese on top.  Sprinkle generously with fresh-cracked pepper and tie it all up with a ribbon of prosciutto.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Here's something you never want to hear:  "What is a (expletive)ing scorpion doing in our bedroom?!"  I thought he was kidding until he started repeating his sentence about five more times.  Sure enough, this little lady found her way onto the floor of our room.  I'm all for gardening to attract wildlife, but this is going too far! 

After a google attempt or two (and after securing her under a glass which was then taped to a coaster), we discovered that there indeed are scorpions native to the California coast, Uroctonous mordax mordax.  Not totally sure, but I think it's a female and it might even be pregnant!  (or gravid, which is apparently the correct term for scorpions who are expecting).  And yes, the thought of baby scorpions living amongst the pile of clothes on my floor does completely freak me out.  The first questions is, "Where did it come from?"  Do scorpions just hang out all over the place and we just don't notice them?

I'm still driving off the creepy crawlies and checking the insides of my shoes before putting them on.  The event reminds me of Lisa's adventure with a Black Widow Spider scare.  I ended up deciding to take the scorpion on a car ride to Tilden Park and releasing her at the base of a multi-trunked Redwood tree, which is apparently their native habitat.  I drove quite the circular route, too so I don't think she'll find her way back.  At least I sincerely hope not.

And yes, I totally realize I'm being a native gardening hypocrite by literally driving away selected wildlife.  If it means I won't find a scorpion between my sheets, I'm okay with that.

Regardless, despite looking like the scariest creature EVER(!!!), their venom is similar to a bee sting. But if her or her friends decide to make my bedroom their new hang out spot, that glass and coaster will be ready.  Hear me, Arachnids?!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Very Vegetable

An explosion of edibles from the garden installed earlier this year.  I had forgotten how incredibly easy and satisfying veggie gardening can be (and I'm saying this even before the tomatoes have ripened!)  The peas trail along a plum twig trellis, generously made especially for me from my Dad.  I love the three pods in the photo above- I just think of a xylophone dinging "dink, dink dink!"

This Flying Saucer or Patty Pan Squash looks like it's wearing a cashmere bodysuit with all its fuzzy whiskers.  These taste delicious with prosciutto and fresh basil.

The French Pickling Cucumbers continue to trickle in and the first batch of quick pickles won rave reviews at our weekend BBQ.  Tiny foods...  so irresistible, hidden among the leaves!

And a sun-bleached long view of the Titan Sunflowers (still growing and not even flowering yet!) with the Sunsweet (an improved Sungold) tomato growing everywhere except the middle of its tomato cage.  Cosmos, Zinnias and a sprinkling of Bachelor's Buttons lure pollinators and give me an excuse for a non-native cutting garden.  Scarlet Runner Beans have twined up the Sunflower stalks, shooting bits of red-orange firecracker sparks in the background.  A rampant mess and I couldn't be more delighted!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alchemy: Turning Ivy Into a Community Gathering Place

I really need a bigger scanner if I'm going to continue doing silly things like designing neighborhood parks!  The ivy covered lot under the freeway and BART tracks a block from my house would make an incredible dog park/playground/basketball court/outdoor art gallery/community garden, wouldn't it?  Well, it's in the works!  Join this google group if you're an interested Oaklander. 

Inspiration sprang from the history of the amusement park it once was (Idora Park) and manifested itself in colorful mosaic benches shaped like roller coaster cars, a sidewalk to mimic the train tracks of the miniature railway, and festoons of lanterns and flags uniting the disparate regions of the park. 

How fun and satisfying to design and imagine this place planted with Fremontodendron, Ceanothus, Scrub Oaks, Redbuds, Penstemons and Deer Grass along a ribbon of dry creek bed.

Again, apologies for the poor scans, but I just couldn't keep this to myself much longer!  By the way, the following images and designs are copyrighted so please don't use them without permission (but you knew that!). 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oakland: We're More Than Just Violent Thugs!

 photo from and taken by Adithya Sambamurthy of the Bay Citizen

All of this talk of the Johannes Mesherle/Oscar Grant trial has got me down.  Setting aside opinions on the case itself, the national coverage warning of riots in the streets convey an image of Oakland that clearly does not define what Oakland really is.  Oakland is many things, some wondrous, some ordinary, some not so fun.  Let's list a few of our favorite non-stereotypical things around Oakland.

Oakland Chinatown:  This is the real Chinatown.  You won't find shops selling the same t-shirts and trolleycar toothpick holders here!  You will find, however cavernous shops filled with dangerously-stacked aisles of imaginative goodies.  Plum-flavored candy, paper parasols, pajamas in very small sizes and the best darn avocado milkshake you can imagine.  With pearls!  Get it at the Sweet Booth, which is located in the mall on Webster and 9th.  Have I even mentioned the dim sum around here?!  Nowhere else can you eat for $2.00 and be full.  It is a place for aimless exploration and little surprises.

The BBQ:  Need I say more?  Find yourself at Everett & Jones near Jack London Square.  Move on to Chef Edwards BBQ in Uptown.  Then amble over to the Brick Pig House (they are just the nicest folks!).  Extra credit for managing to also make it to Tastee's Fish & Chicken Market for a catfish sandwich and hush puppies!

The Farmer's Markets:  The Sunday Temescal Market is "my" market, although Oakland hosts a Friday market in Old Town and a Saturday market right next to the Grand Lake Theater.  I can't help but geek out and try out each one- they all seem to have their own flavor.  Temescal attracts the Blue Bottle Coffee crowd and winding past the endless line of pre-caffeinated zombies can be daunting, but apparently it's worth the wait!  However, a stop at Feel Good Bakery's booth for what we call "crack cookies" erases any stresses about the crowd.  They're more than chocolate.  They're an ascension to somewhere you never want to leave.  We'll forgive them for headquartering in Alameda.

The People:  I know of nowhere else in the Bay Area where I can smile at someone walking past me on the sidewalk and they will say "Good morning."  There's a few bad apples sneaking in from Berkeley, but this town is a friendly town.  It's part of the reason why I feel so passionately about my adopted city.  Despite our far-flung areas, we are all friendly neighbors. 

Joaquin Miller Park:  where else would an urban park be named after a man best known for being totally ridiculous?  Despite the fact that this poet was obsessed with planting invasive eucalyptus and acacia trees, the park provides a quiet respite from traffic noise, as well as amazing views of the city and bay below.  There's even an amphitheater!

So here's a few of my favorite things in Oakland.  What are yours?

Plant of the Week: Bleeding Heart

Bang!  Ka-pow!  Ooooooh!  Aaaaahhh!  What better way to usher in the holiday than with this firecracker of a plant?  Dicentra formosa, a California native for shade, at first glance seems more at home in the Japanese garden amongst Hostas or even Coleus, yet thrives in areas alongside Yarrow, Columbines, or Snowberry.  This particular plant, 'Burning Hearts' is a hybrid with blue-green, divided foliage and an incredible bright, candy scent.  Even better, it promises to bloom from March to September!

Sun:  Part shade to shade
Soil:  Well-drained
Plant:  Anytime, but Autumn is probably best- right before the Winter rains come
Buy it:  Hmmm, I got this from the wholesale nursery, so I can't honestly say.  Ask your local nursery if they can order this particular hybrid, but order the true-blood native from California Flora Nursery, Oaktown Native Nursery, or East Bay Wilds.
Good for:  Color!  In shade!  Japanese-style native gardens, tea party gardens, fragrant gardens, attracting hummingbirds, watercolor artists looking for new muses.