Monday, December 4, 2023

It's been a while

We've had workdays, we've rescheduled workdays, but we've been there - cleaning, pruning, picking trash and planting plants. Life has just been too busy to post much about it!

Here are some photos from recently months.  Recently planted 7 Agave filifera - three were stolen 2 weeks later.  Planted 6 Echium pininana - they're doing great. The vine on the arch died so we removed it. The Hakea needed to be removed, and Chris set about it!



Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Wildlife Profile: California Slender Salamander

Is it a worm? Is it a tiny snake?! No! It's a California Slender Salamander. A resident species at Pennsylvania Garden, at first I thought we had tiny little snakes but was excited to learn that they are in fact a lungless salamander, and a very cute one at that.

Name: California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)
Class: Amphibian
Length: 7-13cm, 5.5"
Geographical Distribution: The coastal mountain areas of Northern California, a small part of the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, California, in patches of the northern Central Valley of California, and in extreme southwestern Oregon.

In the right places - that is, shady, moist gardens, woodlands and forests - this salamander can be easily found. Especially at night, when you'll see them walking around during or after heavy rains in the winter and spring. Turn over a rock at PG or PRG and you're pretty likely to see one, at first coiled up but suddenly squirming away as it tries to escape being seen. 

They look like tiny brown or black snakes, or even worms, but you'll see four miniature legs that are a dead giveaway to ID them. And while they have tiny legs, they have no lungs at all.They breathe through their skin, in fact.

Another oddity is that their red blood cells don't have a nucleus. In general, red blood cells in mammals lack a cell nucleus when mature, and the red blood cells of other vertebrates have nuclei. The only known exceptions are salamanders of the genus Batrachoseps like the Slender Salamander, and fish of the genus Maurolicus.

If you try to pick one up, do be careful of their tails, which they can detach in order to escape. Don't worry - they will grow back, but it's certainly not ideal for them to be always growing tails...

These salamanders lay eggs as early as December. Clutches contain approximately five to twenty eggs, but five to ten different females may use the exact same egg laying site. Hatching around March or April, and in their 7-10 year lifespan they can grow to 5.5" long.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Garden Conservancy Open Days

We're featured in the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program!  The mission of The Garden Conservancy is to "preserve, share, and celebrate America's gardens and diverse gardening traditions for the education and inspiration of the public."

During their Open Days you can tour private gardens and hidden gems all over the USA. A little about the open days from their website:

Fueling America’s passion for gardens, The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program annually celebrates the country’s most exciting, creative, and innovative private gardens. Open Days is made up of a nationwide community of gardeners and garden enthusiasts teaching and inspiring each other and the public. From expert to novice, there is no better way to improve as a gardener than by experiencing a diverse range of gardens, and gardening traditions, firsthand. 

You can get tickets to the private gardens on their website, but of course our garden is always open, and always free. When's the last time you visited? Drop by and see what's up!

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Rainy volunteer day

Our volunteer day today had rain in the schedule, but really it was a light mist so no big deal. Matt and I planted three Agave parryi ssp truncata and I weeded... something we're all going to need to do a lot more of soon! 

Chris joined us and planted five Artemisia "Powis Castle", and then worked on removing an Agave salmiana that had flowered. It was a big job and he was mostly successful! completely successful in freeing it from the dirt, although the darn thing is so heavy we're going to need help moving it from that spot.

Matt and I then went down to PRG and planted five Agave parrasana and seven Muhlenbergia capillaris - a lovely grass with fluffy pink flowers in the fall. Sarah joined us and cut back some Salvia leucantha that really needed it on one of the BRC's too!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Checkup and propagation

Matt and I went to PRG on Sunday to harvest some plants. Our Cortaderia selloana "Gold Band" and "Silver Comet" plants are very hard to come by because California has banned the sale of pampas grass. Why? Well it's a  horribly invasive plant and very difficult to get rid of. However, these variegated hybrids are sterile, meaning they don't produce viable seeds - not a single one in all these years! So if we want more, we have to dig up parts of the plants and propagate them.

After we were done wrestling with the sharp-leaved plants, I chatted with Joe who is always out weeding and picking trash. PRG would not look like it does today without his help! What a guy,

I spent some time cleaning up trash at PG after that, and weeding a little, and then it was time for lunch. On the way home I called in the dumpster that has been sitting on the street at PRG for many months to try and get Recology to take it away. I also called in the pile of trash I found at PG and brought to the curb. Lots to do. We also have loads of plants to go in the ground at our next volunteer day: come help!

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Plant Profile: Euphorbia lambii

Latin name: Euphorbia lambii ("yew-FOR-bee-ah LAM-bee-eye")
Common name: Tree Euphorbia
Originally from: The island of Gomera in the Canary Islands
Blooms: Covered in chartreuse bracts that look like flowers  in early spring
Light: Full sun to shade.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 6-10' x 6-10'
Zones: 9b to 12
Where to find in P. Garden: We have several at PG, and lots and lots of seedlings. None at PRG, despite trying!

The genus Euphorbia is a wacky one. Plants in the genus can be shrubs, ground covers, cacti or even trees like this one - a succulent, weird looking mini tree. So easy to grow in the Bay Area - in fact, it seeds around so there will be plenty to share. You wonder why there aren't more to be seen!

With a beautiful form, all the smooth branches rise up symmetrically and are covered in pom-poms of blue-green leaves, which develop even more pom-poms of chartreuse green flower bracts in early spring. Then, if you sit by an e. lambii on a hot day in summer you can hear it pinging it's seeds around as the pods split open.

During the heat of summer and fall it will drop a few leaves and the pom-poms get smaller (not a bad look!) but as soon as we get winter rain this little tree always burst into lusciousness again.

It's not a long-lived plant, with 10-15 years being average, but it needs no additional water and is very adaptable in our area. Hard frost will kill it - it is hardy only down to about 25 to 30 degrees - but it's easy to relocate a baby to the greenhouse or inside for safe keeping if a frost threatens. Like all Euphorbias, do avoid the white sap which can be very irritating to eyes and skin.

Rare in its homeland, Euphorbia lambii comes from the island of Gomera in the Canary Islands where it grows on the edge of forests in the northwest and central areas of the island from 2,000 to 2,600 feet up.

According to San Marcos Growers:

The name for the genus is derived from Euphorbus, the Greek physician of King Juba II of Numidia and later of Mauritania. In 12 B.C. King Juba named a cactus-like plant he found in the Atlas Mountains after his physician and later Carl Linnaeus assigned the name Euphorbia to the entire genus. The specific epithet honoring British nurseryman Edgar Lamb (1905-1980) was given to this plant in 1960 by the Swedish born Canary Island botanist Eric Sventenius. More recent phylogenetic work has determined that this name should be synonymous with a smaller growing plant also found on the island of Gomera, Euphorbia bourgaeana, and the name Euphorbia lambiorum is also sometimes used. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

GROWTH Project + mulch

Today I met a group from the GROWTH Project at the Triangle Garden, right at the same time as a truck from Bayview Greenwaste showed up with 20 yd.³ of their finest compost product.

It’s a good thing the weather was so superb in Potrero Hill today, because it took us from 11 AM to about 2 PM to get the entire Triangle Garden heavily mulched with a nice 6 to 8 inch thick layer of that compost.

I have no doubt that all of the plants there will really appreciate it. And my poor sore arms and blistered fingers may take a while to forget all that work, but I think the people who pass by will appreciate it a lot as well. Thanks GROWTH team for all your hard work!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Plant planting expedition

OK, well the plants we bought have been planted! Matt and I headed out there this morning to plant in the brief gap in the torrential rain.

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton)

5 Phlomis lanata (Woolly Jerusalem Sage)

10 Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii

5 Agave parryi - we bought 3 but one had big offsets that I spread around.

7 Agave palmeri subsp. chrysantha



Monday, January 9, 2023

Plant shopping expedition

Matt and I took a trip to wholesale plant joy purveyors Pacific Nurseries in Colma at lunchtime today, to shop for plants for PRG.

Over time, plants can succumb to the hard life on the streets. In this case, we were looking for plants to replace the dozens killed when a homeless encampment set fire to an area down at PRG. We got a nice load to start us off:

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton) - awesome plant. if you remember to prune it back hard in winter. Ahem...

5 Phlomis lanata (Woolly Jerusalem Sage - pictured) - a new species of this genus that does so well for us

10 Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii

3 Agave parryi - a new kind for us - we have the A. parryi truncata everywhere, but these have longer leaves

5 Agave palmeri subsp. chrysantha - another new species, and one that pups a lot. Meaning: lots of freebies fir us!

We'll plant these next weekend. Can't wait.

Saturday, January 7, 2023


Our volunteer workday today was done before the rain, and we got a ton of plants into the ground. Matt, Chris and Josh worked away and not only did we do a little weeding and turn the compost at PG, but also planted a Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta - left). We also planted:

13 Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

3 Agave americana striata

1 Cussonia paniculata

1 Peritoma arborea (Bladderpod)

Moved 1 Yucca from PG to PRG and planted two Yucca cuttings alongside it.

Josh and I cut back a Phlomis at PRG, I picked up litter, and Chris cut back a Lavatera with his usual decisiveness. We also put new signs into the kiosks at both PG and PRG - I hope they work to get more interest in our volunteer days!

By the way - all but the Lychnis and Peritoma plants were kindly donated by Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens. Thanks Mat! Check him out on Facebook and Instagram!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Plant Profile: Nolina nelsonii (Blue Nolina)

Latin name: Nolina nelsonii  ("no-LEE-nah nell-SOWN-ee-eye")
Common name: Blue Nolina, Nelson's Bear Grass
Originally from: Northern Mexico
Blooms: Tiny white flowers on a giant spike in spring.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 6-10' x 3-4'
Zones: 8a to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: We have three nice big ones down at the North end of PRG

At some point in your plant growing life you think "Yeah - I've really got this down: I can tell the difference between an Agave, an Aloe and a Yucca at 20 paces. Send me my Girl Scout Plant ID badge please!" Shortly thereafter you stumble across a Nolina and there's a lot of humming and hawing while you try to figure it out.

In this case, I decided to get some Nolinas so I could get to know the genus. We have three Nolina nelsonii down at PRG and they have grown into nice big plants with lovely blue leaves. So far, they're very tough - no water, full sun, and nobody has killed one by stomping on it or letting their dog pee or poop on it yet.

Commonly called bear grass, perhaps because members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, 19th century explorers of western America thought they were big, tough, bear-like grasses, even though they're not a grass. And since they couldn't tell the difference between several genera of plants they called them all bear grass (Yuccas, Xerophyllum and various Nolinas) so that only adds to the confusion.

According to San Marcos Growers: 

The genus was named by Andre Michaux (1746-1802), a French botanist sent to North America by King Louis XVI. His name honors Abbé Pierre Charles (P.C.) Nolin, a French agriculturist and horticultural author. This species was first collected in 1898 by the naturalist Edward W. Nelson (1855-1934) at an elevation in the mountains near Miquihuana between 7,000-9,000 feet in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. It was described in 1906 and named to honor Nelson by famed American botanist Joseph Nelson Rose (1862-1928), who with Nathaniel Lord Britton published the four volume tome "The Cactaceae".

There are 28 species in the genus, all native to Mexico and the Southern US. They're dioecious plants, meaning they have males and females.

Nolina nelsonii comes from the desert and mountain regions of Northern Mexico. It's easy to grow, grows slowly with (eventually) one or more trunks to create outstanding 3-4’ across heads of slightly serrated (but not sharp) bluish 1” wide leaves. One mature, a thick bloom stalk 4’ tall pops up, holding thousands of creamy yellow, scented flowers - after flowering, that head dies but the plant will produce more. It likes ordinary soil, hates wet feet, is very deer resistant, and needs nothing but rain to water it in the Bay Area.



Monday, January 2, 2023

New year, (more) new plants!

Yep we did it again: Matt and I went to PRG and planted 3 Yucca filifera, then up to PG to plant 10 Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion). And guess what? The dirt at PG in some areas is still BONE DRY under the mulch, which is startling given all the rain we have had.

The rain runoff also washed out some of the path at PRG so watch your step. Lastly, I also cut back some Santolinas at PRG - that's a plant that need an annual haircut to stay neat, and somehow I forget every year.

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