Monday, October 10, 2016

Plant profile: Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage)

Salvia leucantha
Latin name: Salvia leucantha (pronounced "SAL-vee-ah LOO-can-thah)
Common name: Mexican Sage
Originally from: Tropical and subtropical pine forests in central and eastern Mexico.
Blooms: Purple, purple and white, white, or white and pink.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought repellent
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 3' x 6'
USDA Zones: 8-10
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed, the brights bed, and the very top bed.

Salvia leucantha
"Danielle's Dream"
Salvia leucantha is a surefire winner in the San Francisco garden, producing flowers for almost 12 months of the year that hummingbirds love, staying evergreen in our climate, and only needing one satisfying and easy chop back to 6" in the winter for them to spring back up looking fabulous. And hey - if you forget to do that they don't look bad.

They even have a lovely round shape and grow nicely in between other plants too, creating a lovely purple accent in any garden. No wonder they're so popular!

Salvia leucantha
"Santa Barbara"
Oh, and did I mention they don't care about drought? You cannot kill them. In fact, they're even super easy to root from cuttings or layers on the ground.

We have three different types. The regular species has bi-colored, velvety-textured flowers consisting of white corollas and longer-lasting funnel-form purple calyxes that arch all over the plant nonstop.  You'll see these all over the Bay area.

Salvia leucantha
"Santa Barbara"
Then there's the slightly more compact all-violet colored "Santa Barbara" and a new one for us called "Danielle's Dream" that has which calyxes and pink flowers.

I have heard of an all white one called "White Mischief" and a deeper purple one called "Midnight" and if I see them for sale I'll be picking them up for sure.

Salvia "Anthony Parker"
Growers crossed Salvia leucantha with Salvia elegans to make another excellent plant we have: Salvia "Anthony Parker". This one has a shorter flower season but the color is a stunning deep purple and again the plant is super tough, so worth the wait. Can someone please breed a few more Salvia leucantha hybrids?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Theft... again.

Our community garden lock box got broken into, clearly by someone who had bolt cutters as the padlocks are gone. All our tools have been stolen - again. Very disappointing indeed.... this time a police report is needed I think. Here's a list of missing items in case you see any of them... please let me know: 

Hose reel - metal, 2 wheel, gray, large
2 hoses (one green, one grey)
3 pairs of pruners (Fiskars,
4 (?) trowels (wood handles, red handles)
1 heavy metal digging bar
2 shovels (one with green ended handle)
3 small and 4 large tubtrugs (blue, green, yellow, purple)
Tool box - gray and black
2 sprinklers (plastic)
2 brass sprayers
Brass “water key” for turning on city water
Tupperware box full of nitrile gloves (multicolored)
Clipboard and forms
Trash picker
4 (?) kneeling pads (green and purple)
First aid kit
Box of doggie bag rolls

Monday, September 26, 2016


I had noticed recently that our resident bramble at the bottom of the steps has gotten a bit enthusiastic about life, and was attempting to jump over the drainage ditch and set up housekeeping on the cactus wall.

This is very bad news. On the one hand, prickly brambles (aka blackberries) are a great deterrent to the average vandal that likes to mess around in the drainage ditch, but on the other hand, brambles are unattractive, invasive, messy and quote painful to be around. So I had to get in that ditch and sort them out.

It took a couple hours but I removed two tubtrugs of brambles and got pretty scratched up in the process. And it was not a second to early either - they were really running back in the cactus wall and about to be a real problem. There is still a lot of ivy to be removed, and a board down there needs to be re-pegged. But it's a good start. I should probably just dig up all the plants in that area and scour it clean of every scrap of weed... but the sun got too hot and I wilted.

This is not the first time I've had to do this - you'll notice I referred to them as "our resident bramble." This is because they are about impossible to kill - leave even the tiniest sliver of root and they come right back, so hacking at them is more of an annual haircut than eradication. If I was one for the herbicide Round Up these guys would be the ideal candidate...

I also watered several areas deeply as we're in a real heatwave the next few days. Hope everything survives.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Heat advisory

Then there were three
Today was hot and the weekend will be hotter, so Matt and I met my parents in the garden to do some tasks before it gets sweltering.

First off Matt dug up two Yucca "Silver Star" from PRG where they were buried in shrubs and looking ratty. We brought them up to PG and planted them with the one we put in a week or so ago - now there is a nice group of three!

I put the water on to sprinkle them.

Fuchsia whacked
My dad cut back some Artemisia that were overlapping the path at PRG, and then he and my mum cut back the Fuchsia boliviana "Alba" and one of the Leonotus leonurus in the brights bed.

I messed around trying to see if a Phlomis could be cut back hard too. Boom! Ready to grow back in a nice shape.

Later on I was driving by and saw Chris working on the Agaves at the front too - wonder what he's going to achieve today!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

More heat

Aloe, Doryanthes and Arctotis
Today Matt and I had less time for gardening, but we got a few things done anyway.

Matt cut some of the bottom leaves off the Agave americana variegata we call Moby Dick. It's flowering and sooner or later the big task of removing the dead plant will come... going to be a prickly job!

He stashed the removed leaves in the middle of the left bed, and I put the Salvia cuttings there too, so they can compost away slowly.

Salvia canariensis haircut
Oh yes - I pruned the Salvia canariensis (Canary Island Sage) quite hard - about half is gone so it should come back in a bit tidier.

This is a really nice tough Salvia with woolly silver leaves and lavender-pink flowers. It has taken a lot of abuse since we go it, and with zero water too, yet it always manages to look good. It is quite large though so needs space to grow - I think we put it a bit too close to the path.

Goliath rescue
 Matt also dug out the Aloe "Goliath" from the terraces where it was languishing. I have the same plant in a pot at home and it is huge compared to this one, so I planted the rescued one in the brights bed and gave it some water. It will get a bit of shade from the Cussonia and Salvia next to it, and better quality dirt there too. Hopefully one day it will grow into a nice tree.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hot September

3 Santolinas, 3 Teucriums
Nice hot day - Matt and I went out to plant a few things we picked up in Mendocino in the last week. Among them were:

3 Teucrium fruicans "compacta." This should be a solid drought tolerant plant, with silvery leaves and lavender flowers. They went in the new top area behind the yellow Santolina virens "Lemon Fizz" that we planted last week. I added in a fourth of the same  Santolina from the steps, but not sure it will make it as I was a bit blasé pulling it out and roots were traumatized...

3 Cistus and a Beschorneria
3 Cistus sp. "purple" - well, you know the one, magenta pink flowers, dark green leaves... I guess the nursery couldn't even be bothered labeling them with the right name, so neither will I!

These went in behind the group of Santolina chamaecyparissus at the other end of the bed. I hope they do well - they are a plant that should be a staple for us, but for some reason have never really gone for it. I moved a Beschorneria to the front of that and it should do well.

Agave angustifolia group
Matt next rearranged the variegated Yucca aloifolia at the top of the steps which had gotten floppy. They look smart now. Then we took all the Agave angustifolias scattered about the garden and arranged them in the front border in a group with the one that is already there. They should perk up soon.

I planted four more Achillea "Coronation Gold" on the steps as it's one of the few things that does well there - even Agaves sometimes start to look withered in that area. Hope they make it: they're the only Achillea, aside from the plain white and very invasive native one, that has survived.

Lastly Matt planted a pretty cool Salvia leucantha "Danielle's Dream" which has white and pink flowers. That went in at the very top between some Agaves and will look pretty girly I admit.

With all these new plants it means a bit of watering, but rain soon... I can feel it... and so can this lamb which I found grazing on an Agave.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Plant profile: Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy)

Latin name: Romneya coulteri (pronounced "ROM-nee-ah KOOL-ter-eye)
Common name: Matilija poppy, Fried egg plant.
Originally from: Southern California and Northern Mexico
Blooms: Big old crinkly white flowers with a huge yellow center, all summer.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant and very tough
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 8' x 8'
USDA Zones: 5-9
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed along the bottom path.

What! It's a giant poppy? Stand back people. It's THE giant poppy. Named for the acclaimed Irish astronomer and physicist Rev. John Thomas Romney Robinson, this mega-poppy behaves the way the young Robinson looks in his portrait shown here. That is, tough, determined, handsome and zealous.

In fact, while Robinson went on to do great things in his career, like cataloging 5,345 stars, the Matilija poppy is similarly ambitious, if not actually invasive and slightly annoying at times. But when it flowers, all is forgiven: those bloody great big fried egg-looking flowers are so cheerful it's hard to hate the plant.

The largest flowers of the poppy family, they prefer a warm, sunny spot and fertile soil with good drainage. Wikipedia says that they are "not easily grown but once established are difficult to remove" and I would agree with the latter part of that sentence. We didn't have any trouble starting them though, and they survive with utter neglect and no water at PG, and I hack them down to stumps in the fall which barely puts a dent in them.

In the wild, they are known as "fire followers" as they can often be found in burned areas. In the garden, they are known as utter b@stards and you cannot kill them.

The common name "Matilija poppy" comes from a location they're found. Matilija was one of the Native American Chumash rancherias, which became the Matilija Wilderness, a space of 29,600 acres established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act, 12 miles from the town of Ojai, in Ventura County near Los Angeles.

Although the original meaning of the word "matilija" is lost,  the name originates with the Chumash Indian Chief Matilija and his tribe, who lived in the hills and valleys of Ventura county during the early 1800s. Various legends can be read about here, and below.

Numerous legends from Old California tell of the story of his daughter Amatil and her lost love. In most versions, Amatil falls in love with a young brave, is kidnapped by Spaniards to work at Mission Buenaventura, longs to return to her tribal home, Ojai (the Nest), and finally flees the mission only to find her lover mortally wounded after a fierce battle with the Spaniards. The lovely Matilija flower is said to symbolize the tears of Amatil and her heart of gold.
Not sure such a romantic story is apt for such a brash plant, but OK. Plant them in a large area at your own risk. You probably won't regret it. Much.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Terrace planting

Matt and I decided the move some plants today, and give them a new lease on life. Several ratty looking plants had been planted at the bottom of the terraces to grow on a bit, and were starting to look pretty nice.

We dug them out and put them on the new top terraces and brights bed today:
1 Agave lechuguilla
8 Agave lophantha 
1 Agave salmiana
1 Agave tequiliana
2 Yucca aloifolia 
1 Yucca elephantipes (variegated)
1 Yucca "Silver Star"

This also involved moving several wheelbarrow loads of compost to the new terraces and amending that area a lot.

We also moved an Agave parryi to the middle border,  and planted a dozen Agave pups of various kinds in the "pup farm" we created for growing on small Agaves. I put several cuttings of Aloe striatula in the brights bed too, and several areas got a deep watering. Hope that tides the plants over for a while.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Volunteer day projects

New terraces
Today Matt and I met Emily and John at the garden and knocked a few tasks out pretty quickly.

John got to work deadheading the Agapanthus right away. This year's flowering was not as impressive as other years - could be the drought, could be it's time to divide the Agapanthus, or give them some food aka compost.

While Emily got to work on the ever-important task of weeding, Matt finished up a project at the top of the garden: removing the asphalt he dug up last time and finishing up the terraces using the chunks he'd dug out. The two new areas are ready for some hardcore drought loving plants!
Before and after

Next we dug out some holes for the Agave americana pups Chris collected from the arch area for us last month. This is going to create a low Agave hedge, that replaces the old lavender hedge of yore, with Euphorbias, Calandrinias and feather grass in between.

I started a lot of Calandrinia cuttings, but we'll plant the Agaves now and the rest in winter when there's rain.  Spacing the Agaves 12' apart, it leaves room for other species between them. We gave them lots of compost and mulched them in, so they should be looking happier soon.

While all this was going on a few beds got water. The brights bed has some newish Cordylines that need a good start, and the middle border is just parched. Matt and I set up the sprinklers to also water the middle back bed and part of the left bed, then went for lunch.

We heard a shrieking bird as we set up one sprinkler, and I thought it was complaining about its nest getting wet. Then we saw it - a scrub jay who was REALLY enjoying the rain bath, and yelling for joy. Check out the video.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Plant profile: Limonium

Nearly always flowering!
Latin name: Limonium perezii ("lim-OH-nee-um per-EZ-ee-eye")
Common name: Statice, Sea Lavender, Marsh Rosemary
Originally from: Tenerife, The Canary Islands
Blooms: All. The. Time.
Light: Full sun
Water: Survived severe drought! Occasional summr water is appreciated.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 2-3' tall and wide
USDA Zones: 9a-11
Where to find in P. Garden: In the front border there are three.
Limonium is a genus of 120 flower species from many areas of the world - Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America; there's even a California native one - and several of them are popular in the garden. The majority though come from the Mediterranean, and the one we have is L. perezii and it's a tough, xeric plant!

Considered to be a rare and vulnerable species in its native habitat on one small part of the island of Tenerife, it's conversely very common in the garden trade and you can pick these up cheaply at Home Despot et al anytime.

Beautiful purple flowers
The name for the genus comes from the Latin word limonion used by Pliny for a wild plant which came from the Ancient Greek word "leimon" meaning "meadow". This plant was originally named Statice perezii by Otto Stapf, an Austrian botanist, presumably to honor Dr. George V. Perez, a medical doctor who sent seed of several different Statice species to Kew in 1902. These plants were changed to Limonium by Harvard University botanist Frederic Hubbard in 1916. 

They are grown both for their flowers and for the appearance of the calyx, which dries up and remains on the plant after the true flowers have fallen, and are known as "everlasting flowers."

This plant has been doing great in the very dry, hot front border. It also tolerates salt spray and desert heat so an excellent plant for seaside plantings and also in dry gardens. It will occasionally seed around but not much.

Little maintenance is required other than to remove dead flower stalks and to divide the plants every 2 to 3 years in the spring to freshen them up.

I recommend 'em!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Puppy snuggle with every workday*

Many thanks to everyone who stopped by the garden to say hello at the last workday - but a special snuggly thanks - to Zinny and her owner William! The workday was just getting started and they came by; who can resist a a puppy pug? We can not, as the photos tell the tale.

Also a big shout out to all of our volunteers: Chris, Aditi, Conor, Danielle, and Nate. We got a ton of work done at the garden and a puppy snuggle in. Oh, and Danielle found $20 in a shrub and donated it to the garden. This just might have been the best garden workday ever!

As for work done, numerous good things were accomplished. Compost was turned, much weeding of the left front bed and middle bed, Agapanthus dead-headed, and Chris took on the arduous task of managing the tangle of Agaves at the front entrance. It was looking pretty scary, but is now much more clean and elegant looking, ready for Annie or Matt to work their magic on the area with new plants.
*We can not guarantee puppies at every workday, but you are always welcome to bring your own. BYOP!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Stranger danger!

Where did that come from?
We had a couple (three, four) volunteer trees of the same type pop up at PRG a while back and I pondered them cautiously as saplings, then grew somewhat alarmed as they quickly increased in size. Um, what are you and where did you come from?

When Friends of the Urban Forest were out for their final tree trimming jaunt I mentioned the new-tree sized things and while they didn't ID them they agreed to raise the canopies on the two larger ones to prevent that annoying disease Stick In My Eye which you get from walking past a tree that pokes into a pathway. 

Stop trying to hide.
I can see you.
Two of them are in actually OK spots but there a new baby and one that's too close to an extant tree, and another that's got pretty big behind an Acacia baileyana so they will need to go.

But what are they? Today I used Urban Tree Key to determine that they're probably Red-eyed wattle (Acacia cyclops) and basically the devil incarnate. Invasive beasts!

Leafy though...
It is TBD what their fate is... on the one hand they are invasive. Then again, what do we care about invasive species - we're in the middle of a city! (I kid.) On the other hand, how much do these trees love PRG with its zero water and hot, hot sun? They love it a lot. In fact they look better than the handful of tragic Tristaniopsis laurina "Elegant" (Small-Leafed Tristania) along the street which are not exactly thrilled with PRG life. So maybe we want them...

No surprise they are happy considering the other two Acacia species at PRG (A. baileyana and A. stenophylla) are also looking stunning and growing well.

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