Thursday, May 17, 2018

Weekend weeding

Agave angustifolia + Aeoniums
Last weekend I popped over to the garden for a couple of hours of weeding and found NO homeless encampments and NO damage to the dog poop station. Hooray!

I started weeding in the middle back bed and after clearing out the weeds, realized a nice ground cover would be some lovely Aeoniums. These are a good tough rosette-forming plant, and easy to start from cuttings. I clipped a load from the cactus wall and put them in place - should keep things tidy.

I did the same by the wrong way sign too, and had a lovely chat with Liz and Betty who were visiting the garden and very supportive.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Plant Profile: Aloe maculata (Soap Aloe)

Latin name: Aloe maculata ("AL-oh mack-you-LAH-tah") (syn. Aloe saponaria)
Common name: Spotted Aloe, Soap Aloe, Zebra Aloe
Originally from: Southern and eastern South Africa, south-eastern Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Blooms: Int he bay area springtime is when the plant sends up tall, flat-topped clusters of coral/peach/orange colored flowers which are awesomely frilly!
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Rain is plenty.
Height x width: 24"x18" - flowers can reach 36" tall
Zones: 8b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have a group by the bench, another group near the top of the steps, and some in the brights bed.

Have you always wanted to try Aloes but afraid to kill something expensive and finicky? Are you extremely frugal and love plants that pop out little clones of themselves all the time? Do you just like spotted things? Or plants that have crazy peachy orange flowers that hummingbirds love? Aloe maculata is your friend.

This species was previously known as Aloe saponaria, a name that came from the Latin "sapo" meaning soap, as the sap makes a soapy lather in water which is used by local people in South Africa for cleaning.

Now it's called Aloe maculata ("maculata" means speckled or spotted), and it's a dry garden rock star.

Salt tolerant and highly adaptable, it is naturally found in a wide range of habitats across Southern Africa, from Zimbabwe in the north, to the Cape Peninsula in the south. It's also naturalized in some areas of California - that's everything you need to know about how easy it is to grow here!

It is also a very variable species and hybridizes easily with other similar Aloes, like Aloe striata, sometimes making it difficult to identify.

The leaves range in color from purple and reddish when very drought or heat stressed, to light green when they are getting lots of water and shade. They always have distinctive flat-topped flower spikes. The color of the flowers may range from red to yellow, but is usually peachy orange or persimmon color.

This Aloe will grow to an impressive but manageable 2' wide quite quickly, and will offset mini versions of itself so you always have more coming. What's not to love?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Volunteer Day - so much to do!

Lots flowering now!
Our May volunteer day was lovely - the sun was out but not too hot, and the weeds were ripe for pulling. A bit over-ripe actually, and going to seed, so all the more reason to pull them.

Matt, Sarah, Aditi and I showed up at 10, and as I expected, there was a homeless encampment (still) in the back of the garden since last week, despite my trying to get them moved before they destroy more plants.

I called Police Non-Emergency and asked them to come move the residents along (yes, I know - it's not a solution!) but the resident left before they showed up. When they did show up, they told us we were doing the right thing... and really nothing more can be done.

Recology Ryan
We moved all the belongings to the street, in bags and called 311 to get them. Ryan from Recology showed up in an hour and took everything away.

Next I repaired the brand new dog poop bag station, whose $300 top part had been bent so someone could steal the probably $5 of bags inside. Nice.

If it breaks again, dog people: what's the solution here? You use the garden daily - I think it's time for you to be involved in the handling of poop. Shall we have a special dog owner's meeting to discuss?
Wonderful Cardoon

Then we got to weeding. Aditi and Sarah headed down to tackle the insane weeds at PRG. Matt and I took on PG.

We weeded by the cherry plums, and planted a nice big Furcraea selloa var. marginata we've been growing on, and made a nice group of three. Well, the middle one was damaged by a homeless fire, but it's slowly starting to recover.

Then we moved down to the bottom pathway, and removed mountains of weeds from that area. The Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) is absolutely going berserk and yeah - it's a native. so we want to keep it, but it needed a real haircut to give the plants nearby a chance to live.

Furcraea selloa var. marginata
Nate and his two kids showed up and let me know he's still faithfully reading the blog. Interested in stats, I looked up and saw that we have on average about 75 people visit the site each day, and 236 yesterday alone. Hi everyone! :) Not a bad readership for the blog.

And at the end of the day Matt cut down some of the cactus that needs to be moved before the building next door is demolished. This is a very tricky job as they have 3-4" long spines that are very sharp. Good job Matt.

He also moved an Agave scabra from the cactus wall to the new Furcraea group  looks great.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How to root Salvia cuttings

Buying enough plants to fill a garden gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. A cheap, 4" size pot plant is usually $5-7, and a 1 gallon from $8-15... so gardeners usually get pretty interested in propagation sooner or later!

Some plants are so easy to propagate it's a crime: they seed everywhere, or push up pups that are simple to transplant elsewhere. Others can be propagated by root layering, cuttings, or even just from a single leaf.

Today I'm going to show you how to propagate Salvias from cuttings. In this case, Salvia canariensis: that big silvery shrub at the top of the garden.

Initial cutting
1. Take a cutting
To prevent the cutting getting bacteria on it and rotting, use a very sharp, clean knife, pruners or scissors to cut a stem of Salvia from the shrub. Choose a stem that doesn't have a flower on the end, because the cutting will waste a lot of energy on the flower vs making roots, and cut a bit about 4-8" long.

The best time is in Spring when plants are growing like crazy. You can try to root cuttings at other times, but they're less likely to work.

Prepped cutting
2. Prepare the cutting
Pinch or cut off all the bottom leaves from your cutting, and cut the stem down if needed as well.

The idea is to leave the (growing) tip intact, and 2-4 leaves at most, so that the cutting doesn't wilt and die.

All rooting up nicely
3. Start the cutting
Dip the bottom of the cutting in powdered rooting hormone if you like,  then pop it into a plastic plant pot (with drainage holes) full of perlite (a white crumbly material you can get at any garden center which drains well) so the whole stem is in the pot and the leaves are above the perlite.

You can usually fit 4-8 cuttings in a 1 gallon pot no problem. Water them well, and leave them in a shaded place.

Rooted! Ready to pot
If the cuttings wilt you need to water them more, or remove some leaves (or both). I usually find I need to water my cuttings daily, or every second day.

Keep the perlite moist, but not waterlogged, and after 2-6 weeks roots will form.  You'll also notice that some leaves will start to grow - that's a great sign that roots are in place.

Safely potted up
4. Ready to pot up?
Give your cuttings a little tug - if they slide out they're not rooted yet. Give them more time.

When they are rooted, gently tip the cuttings out of the pot (those roots are fragile!) and put one cutting per pot onto 2-3" of potting compost, then gently fill the rest of the pot up with more potting compost. Water well, and put the cuttings in a semi-shaded place to grow on.

Nip the tip
After a few days to settle, I move them to a sunnier spot. When potting up, or a few days after, you can pinch out the tips of each cutting with your fingers or scissors so that the cutting branches out nicely into a shrub.

Look after your new plants and in a few months they should have grown a lot, and if you see lots of growth on the leaves, and roots filling the pot, your plant will be ready to plant in the ground! The best time to plant out in the bay area is in the fall, so get those cuttings started now.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cuttings and weedings and ponderings

Yesterday I went to PG to do some weeding. On arrival I saw a deserted encampment down in the back area, and dolefully set about moving all the trash/bedding to the curb. I used the 311 app to schedule a pickup right away, as these can take time to be done.

Then I saw a man heading purposefully to the back of the garden - to the camp. He came back a few minutes later and asked if I had seen a backpack - I showed him where it was, and told him this is not a good place to camp... he had uprooted and broken up several of the yucca branches planted back there to make his camp, and as usual there will be piles of trash, used needles, vomit and crap to clean up...

I called police non-emergency - as is our policy - in order to underscore that this is not a place to camp, and went back to weeding, very sadly, thinking that there is no winner here, and feeling helpless, frustrated, unsafe, and annoyed.

Sorry - I wish it was all flowers and butterflies, but  unfortunately in the last year, this garden has become as impacted as the rest of the city by homeless issues, and the poor decisions of the governments of yesteryear...

On the plus side, I was happy to see Aditi, who dropped off two pots of cuttings she has been nurturing for several weeks. And they're rooted! I brought them home and I'll publish a post about how to root cuttings soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Weed Profile: Dove's Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle)

Tiny, blurry flowers
This is the second in our weed ID series. I've noticed this weed is very common at PG this year, and while it has some redeeming qualities, it's still competing with other plants for light and food, so it needs to go.

Latin name: Geranium molle ("jer-AY-nee-um" and "MOLL-ay")
Common name: Dove's Foot Cranesbill, Dovefoot Geranium
Originally from: Mediterranean and sub-Mediterranean areas
Blooms: Flowers bloom all the time. They are small, pink/purple, and about 1/4" - 1/2" in diameter.  
Worst feature: It is everywhere!

Best feature: Cute leaves, tiny flowers, easy to weed out.
Height x width: 6"-14" x 6"-14"

The whole thing
How best to weed: Just pull it up by the roots - in damp soil they come out easily if you grab the whole base of them.
Don't mistake it for:  The fancier geraniums!

This annual plant grows quickly and seeds quickly too - like most annuals. But it can also survive over winter and become a short-lived perennial. It has pretty little leaves, and tiny purple flowers. Throw in somewhat hairy reddish stems and overall it's not ugly! But at the same time, it's not really a superb ground cover or fascinating specimen plant, like some of it's relatives (Pelargoniums etc) so by dint of being a bit dowdy, it's a weed. OK, now I feel a bit guilty.

Red stems and rounded leaves
It is native to the Mediterranean and sub-Mediterranean areas, and has naturalized in other parts of Europe, in southwestern and central Asia and in North Africa. It's not a threat to native ecosystems, however, so no cause for panic.

So it's not evil - but could it be useful? In 1652 Nicholas Culpeper  suggested a variety of uses for G. molle, including the treatment of internal and external injuries. Apparently the bruised leaf healed external injuries faster, and a boiled concentration in wine was said to relieve gout and other joint pains. But then, who has gout these days? If you do, please help yourself to this weed - take as many as you want!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Weed-A-Thon results!

Our volunteer workday annual Weed-A-Thon was a blast!

We were joined by May from SFPA and Paul and his crew from the SFPA’s Clean and Green Team. They set about emptying our compost bins so we can move the bins to a better spot.

When that was done, they removed the new homeless encampment that had sprung up at the back of the garden too. After moving all the trash and green waste to the street, a full 12 bags of waste, they moved down to PRG where the weed situation is intense.

Half the crew picked up trash and made a huge pile, the other half weeded the pathways. End result after 3 hours? 10 more bags of trash and green waste, and a huge pile of street closure signs that PG&E left on the street months ago.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was up at PG weeding away like maniacs.

Matt, Hilary, Aditi, Chris, Gretchen and Katsura diligently pulled weeds from the soft, rain-damp soil and accumulated another dozen bags of weeds. They also spread loads of wood ships on the pathways, and widened the main path up the garden significantly.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves – there’s a LOT more to do, but in 5 hours this crew removed a HUGE amount of weeds and trash, and made a HUGE difference to the garden – thank you so much for your help!

We had a nice break for pizza at noon, and finished up at 3pm completely exhausted, but utterly satisfied with all the effort. What a rewarding day in the glorious sunshine after the storm. I am going to sleep for a week.

Thanks Kunaal for the photos - check out our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more pics!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Annual Weed-A-Thon is coming up!

Mark your calendars - our annual Weed-A-Thon is coming up on Saturday April 7th and we want YOU to come help us weed at PG and PRG - in exchange for pizza, and also prizes for the volunteers who fill the most tubs of weeds!


We will be weeding from 10am-3pm, and taking a pizza break midday. Come for an hour, come for the whole day - every little bit helps! Tools, gloves etc provided, of course.

Please join us!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Another day, another encampment

Chris let me know another encampment was growing at PG, so Matt and I stet out to sort it out. On arrival the camp was empty so I removed everything and called in a 311 to get it picked up.

After that, we weeded. Two of the compost bins are FULL now - good thing we have a volunteer day coming up to help shift that! I weeded around the Agaves by the wrong way sign, and also the Agave bed opposite that where the lovely blue Echiums are flowering by the bench.

Brody gave us two Agaves, and I planted those in the new top bed as well.

Lastly, Matt finished installing the two dog poop stations. One at PG, one down the street at PRG. They look great! No excuses dog owners - you have got to pick up your dogs poop!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Smell this!

Pittosporum undulatum
Lots of flowers happening at PG today: get out and have a sniff at some of them!

We have a tree up by the arch at the top of the steps flowering - Pittosporum undulatum. The tiny white flowers are really sweet-smelling.

The Echiums around the garden are covered in blue flowers now too, and hundreds of honey bees and bumble bees are buzzing around them. They don't smell of much to a human being, but clearly they are absolutely amazing for bees and they do look lovely.

Philadelphus "Belle Etoile"
Then right next to the arch is our Philadelphus "Belle Etoile,"and that's covered in large white flowers too, so find out why it's called Mock Orange for yourself: what scent!

Matt and I spent 4 hours weeding and doing tasks on Saturday. Most notably, Matt concreted in two posts that will form the bases for the poop stations we just bought.

These solid metal containers will have poop bags available and a container for dog owners to place poop in, and they will be emptied monthly by volunteers and a poop pickup service we will pay for.

It was really disappointing to see that someone has been dumping bagged dog poop at the base of the light pole again, and also hanging bags of poop from the Agave at the front. How disgusting!

And it's also pretty galling to have to pay almost $800 of our money for two poop stations and a monthly fee to empty them because a few dog owners are so irresponsible, letting their dogs literally crap on all our hard work. It mystifies me how thoughtless this is - right next to a "Please pick up after your dog" sign too...

Well weeded

While pondering this, I weeded the end of the brights bed by the arch, and spread wood chips to suppress further weeds. I filled an entire bin of the composter with weeds, and turned another one over. Our composters need some work - the lids are damaged from homeless people climbing up on them, so we will need to buy new wood and redo the tops.

Someone kindly left an Agave in a pot at the entrance of the garden: thanks! Its worth noting that plants left in pots are usually stolen though, so please contact me if you have a donation :)

Before and after
On Sunday we returned to complete installation of the poop stations, only to find out that the company had sent the wrong top parts. We spent some time weeding around Agaves instead, as they often get a nasty case of rot at the base if you don't keep soggy weeds away from them. We pulled all the old chips away, which had composted down to dirt, removed all the weeds, then put fresh chips in so the Agaves are not buried in chips. Much better.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Weed Profile: Malva

Easy to recognize leaves
Welcome to the first in a series of articles about weeds at Pennsylvania Street Gardens and Pennsylvania Railroad Gardens, and how to get rid of them.

Our first subject is a rampant annual called Malva. It has pros and cos though - read on to find out what they are.

Latin name: Malva neglecta and M. parviflora ("MAL-vah neg-LECT-ah" and "MAL-vah par-vee-FLOR-ah")
Common name: Little Mallow, Cheeseweed
Originally from: M. neglecta: North Africa, central and southern Europe and south west Asia. M. parviflora: Southern Europe, North Africa and south west Asia, extending as far as Turkestan and Afghanistan.
Blooms: Flowers bloom nearly year-round. They are small, white to pale pink, and about 2/5 of an inch (1 cm) in diameter.  
Worst feature: Dreadful taproot 
Best feature: It's edible!
Height x width: Ranges from 6" x 12" for M. neglecta to 5' x 2' for M. parviflora
How best to weed: Get the taproot out
Don't mistake it for: Nasturtiums, which have a similar leaf shape, but smoother, less wave edges and big orange flowers.

Malva species look very similar. In fact, for most people, M. neglecta and M. parviflora can only be distinguished by comparing the flower petals and fruit shape. M. neglecta petals are longer than M. parviflora petals, and the fruit of M. neglecta are smooth while those of M. parviflora are wrinkled. But it doesn't really matter - they are both weeds, and we treat them both the same.

These annual plants seed prolifically, and develop a long taproot - like a thin white carrot - which is difficult to remove in dry ground, If you leave the taproot in the ground, or even part of it, the plant will regrow. And those taproots can be hard to get out!
Devilish root

With that in mind here are some of the ways we control them. First is pulling or digging out the whole taproot. This is always the best method to remove any weed, and in this case is also quite satisfying - gently pull and, if the ground is damp, the whole thing should come up. Or dig it up in drier soil. Some of these guys have massive roots though and if you don't have time or energy for removing them, cutting the plant off at the base of the leaves in one snip of the pruners will certainly slow the plant down and stop it seeding everywhere. You'll have to dig it out later, but it's an OK short term fix.

I'd consider the relative ease with which you can pull it out a "pro," but on the cons list for this plant is the fact that under certain conditions, little mallow accumulates nitrates to concentrations toxic to cattle. Poultry that eat mallow leaves or seeds can produce lower quality eggs.

There are some other pros to list though. This plant's fruit is sometimes described as looking like a tiny wheel of cheese, giving it the common name of cheeseweed.  Does it TASTE like cheese though? Let me know: all parts of this plant are edible. Rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium, the mild-flavored leaves and flowers can be added to a salad, and the fruit can be a substitute for capers. When cooked, the leaves create a mucus very similar to okra and can be used as a thickener to soups and stews. Dried leaves can be used for tea. 

Mallow also roots release a thick mucus when boiled in water. This can be beaten to make a meringue-like substitute for egg whites. Yeah, this plant is related to the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis), whose sap was used to make marshmallows, leading to many happy times by the campfire.

So if you find a mallow in the garden, please do me a favor - pull it out and eat it.  :)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wildlife Profiles: Western Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos

Awful bird
At least one Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos ("MIM-us polly-GLOTT-os") is a resident of Pennsylvania Street Garden, and each year a nest is build and a lot of song and dance goes into it. I actually quite like this bird, despite my tongue in cheek description below.

Official description:

  • Family: The Wrens, Thrashers, etc .
  • Length: 9.00" - 11.00"
  • Adults: Upper parts, plain gray; wings and tail, blackish; wings with white patch at base of primaries; wing bars, white tipped; wing quills and tertials with whitish edgings; under parts, white tinged with grayish  - more brownish in autumn.
  • Young:  Upper parts more brownish black,  indistinctly streaked, or spotted with darker breast, spotted with dusky.
  • Geographical Distribution: United States from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific coast and in Lower California.
  • Breeding Season: April, May, and June
  • Nest: Of small twigs and weeds lined with finer material, and sometimes horsehair and cotton; placed from 6 inches to 50 feet high in thick bushes, hedges, vines, and trees. We've had them nest in our Cordylines.
  • Eggs: 4 or 5 pale bluish or greenish, spotted with reddish brown.

Preparing to yell
This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturæ in 1758 as Turdus polyglottos. It's thought that the genus "Turdus" is a reference to how annoying mockingbirds can be, especially when they sing loudly at night... sometimes they get up at 3am and just yell in your window. Nobody knows why. Harper Lee wrote a great book about what to do when this happens, although actual references to deceased mockingbirds and how to get them that way were pretty thin on the ground in To Kill a Mockingbird. Let's just say the central themes of the book, involving racial injustice and the destruction of innocence, were metaphorical.

The northern mockingbird is known for its mimicking ability, as reflected by the meaning of its scientific name Mimus (mimic)  polyglottos (many-tongued.) It will copy the songs of other birds, even if they are not-great songs. It will copy dogs barking, car alarms, babies crying, ambulance sirens and the agonized wails of people trying to sleep.

The northern mockingbird is the only mockingbird commonly found in North America, thank goodness. This bird is mainly a permanent resident, but northern birds may move south during bad weather. It breeds in southeastern Canada, the United States, northern Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and the Greater Antilles. So, you can see that the range of people united by lack of sleep is huge. It's even the state bird of five states, appearing in book titles and songs.

Not flashy
The northern mockingbird is not a flashy bird: it has gray to brown upper feathers and a paler belly. Its tail and wings have white patches you can see when it flies. It eats both insects and fruits, and generally hangs around wooded areas and/or bedroom windows.

A 2009 study showed that mockingbirds are really smart - able to recognize individual humans, especially anyone who threatened them.  Which is just as well...
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