Friday, June 12, 2015

How to cut back shrubby Euphorbias

 If you're like us, you know the shrubby Euphorbias are the fun lovin' criminals of the plant world. Tough, drought tolerant and always seeding themselves everywhere.

We have lots of Euphorbia characias in the garden and enjoy their compact shape and amazing chartreuse flowers. But when the flowers are over (more brown than lime green) they need to be cut back, so here's how.

Don't do this
First of all, note that Euphorbia sap, a white milky and sticky substance that leaks out when you prune them, is quite the irritant. Don't get it in your eyes people! Some species have sap that can blind you, so take care.

That also means that pruning them around dogs and children needs to be done right.

First, do not just deadhead the tops of the flowers and leave sticks with nasty sap at small-beast eye level! Someone's gonna get hurt, and at the very least it looks ugly when you prune plants this way.

Second, if you cut down to a few inches from the base and compost the stalks (I chop them up a bit for faster composting) it's a quick job. See the before and after here - the new stalks coming in will quickly fill out the shrub.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Drought casualties

We have had a few drought casualties already.

One area hard hit is the brights bed at the top of the garden.

The gigantic Salvia gesneriiflora 'Tequila" is 90% wilted or dead (some parts may make it) as well as the Buddleja "Ellen’s Blue" and another Buddleja Joan gave us ages ago. Even the Kool Aid Bush (Psoralea pinnata) is looking dry.

The question is: when the drought ends, what will we replace them with?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Super Volunteer!

Today's volunteer day dawned bright and sunny, and Matt and I headed up to the garden ready for a few light tasks. Nothing major. It's hot, yaknow?

However, that was not to be.  Super Volunteer Bob showed up and did All The Things:

1. Turned the compost LIKE A BOSS
2. Cut back the Chasmathes like it was HIS CAREER
3. Obliterated a huge nasty stand of ivy that was out of control AS IF IT WAS A DRAGON HE WAS FIGHTING. AND WON.

Not only that but his wife Barbie weeded the steps with determined efficiency, and Jackie came too and weeded the back terrace with great gusto. But really, honestly, Bob killed it.

I cut back some Euphorbias and Matt did all sorts of tub-trugs full of damage to weeds.

But Bob owned it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Rehab and rescue

Some kind of Dyckia
Matt and I popped out for couple hours of gardening and took three large Aloe maculata and Aloe vera out to plant in the garden.

After that was done, Matt dug up a Phormium that has been hiding in the bushes for quite some time and potted it up so it can get some rehabilitation in a safe place. While he was doing that, he found a bag thrown in the shrubbery.  A quick look inside revealed the name of the owner, and I left him a voice mail to say I had his bag and some cables if he wanted them. Shortly after that I found another of his bags, and when he called he was quite happy. He'll be reunited with his goods this week.

Agave shawii
I weeded on the back slope, discovering very happy Agaves hiding back there, growing away in the bone dry soil as they like to do. It's all about plant selection in this drought!

I also reconfigured some Aeoniums and planted an Agave parryii.

That said, here's a list of plants not looking happy at all this week:
Calla lilies (usually they die back this time of year, but at PG they normally remain green year round)
Cussonia natalensis
Psoralea pinnata
Salvia "Tequila"
Fuchsia boliviana

None of these would normally be called xeric, but drought tolerant they have been. Until now...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Crispy dry out there...

Thanks for dumping that...
Despite a sprinkle of rain this week the gardens are looking crispy dry - well, the plants that aren't super xeric, that is. The Fuchsia boliviana is in a sad state and will likely die.

Even the Cussonia natalensis is looking iffy: if it dies I shall be very sad indeed. The Agaves, Aloes and other succulents are as happy as clams, naturally.

Agave tequilana flowering
Matt and I spent an hour or so picking trash at PRG today. We found, and filled, three wheelie bins! We left them by a big pile of wire casings someone dumped at the garden - they recycle wire at the scrap metal place around the corner and I suppose dumping the plastic casings in a garden seems totally fine to some types.

We also picked up a dozen or more dog poos in bags. What is up with that dog people? Why do some of you pick up your pet's waste, bag it, tie it, then throw it in the bushes or straight up leave it on the path?

Agave "Lemon Lime"
Calandrinia and Kniphofias
Some people just leave loose craps right on top of plants though. Harder to pick up so you don't even try? Pretty lame.

In other news a number of Agaves are flowering now. The Agave tequilana we planted as a pup in 2009 is huge, and going off like a rocket (image shown) as well as BOTH of the big Agave americana "Lemon Lime" specimens that Matt and Paul brought from Healdsburg. I'm sad about that! Almost all species of Agave die after flowering so we will replace them with something equally epic when the flowers are done - which will be months from now.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Workday Grass Removal Crew & More

Luke made short work
of the compost!
A big thank you to everyone who attended the workday - Annie, Luke, Jenna, Joanne, MaryBill and my mom Debbie. So much was done that it's hard to record it all, but I can at least report the highlights and acknowledge the great work that was accomplished!

First off, Annie set about to taming the Salvia canariensis that was overgrowing into the pathway with its' beautiful silver and purple abundance.

Jenna all smiles
weeding the pathway
The rest of the crew divided up into groups, weeding the pathways and doing a thorough clean-out of the grass that has taken over much of the garden. In particular, we made a big push to get the middle front bed, brights bed, and left bed all cleared and spiffed up.

Annie removed some overgrown Euphorbias along the top path and replaced them with Aloe maculatas, as well as trimming up the giant Phormium "Alison Blackman" who will soon need to be moved elsewhere as she has become too mighty.

Pathway clearing expert Joanne
Towards the end of the workday the fully crisped and dead-gone lavenders in the dog area were removed and Annie put in a nice variety of Agaves in their placeAs much as we all love lavender, a tough spot requires really tough plants; if a plant doesn't survive we will try something different instead of trying to replace it. 

A little art someone made
in the dog area - lovely!
Compost was turned (thanks Luke!), plants dead-headed (thanks Mary!), and every time I turned around Bill had expertly removed huge swaths of weeds. Everyone did a great job and it was fun to hang out and chat while we worked.

Hope to see you all at the garden next month!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Big and Small

First what I consider the 'big' stuff: our neighborhood! The lovely folks at Potrero Kids have put together a plant & bakesale, and I encourage you to stop by and check it out. The tomatoes were actually grown on Potrero Hill, so they will be extra happy in your yard this summer.

The 'small' stuff is everything else! The Greater & Greener  ( conference visited the gardens today, and I was lucky enough to be able to take time to lead the tour an answer their questions. Participants ranged from the Deputy Director of City Operations of Copenhagen to a PhD student from Cambridge, and many, many people involved in conservancy programs in their city. The group asked a lot of great questions and thought the gardens looked great.

Way to go Potrero Hill!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Volunteer day before the rain

Our volunteer day on Saturday involved a lot of weeding, and the team accomplished it with vigor!

Linda showed up all the way from the north bay to help weed the front arch and cactus wall - clearly she's done this before and knew her way around an agave no problem.

Emily took care of the weeds alongside the left bed, and PSG Emily and her mum, Debbie, weeded the dog area and paths. Nate pitched in too, making a huge dent in the ever-growing grass population in the middle back bed, and helping Matt with weeds in the front border.

Before: weedy mess
Many thanks to the awesome team of students from UC Berkeley who volunteered as part of their public health project! Suvruta, Zachary, Marandah, Erin, and Michael got right to work with many tasks getting done quickly; ably emptied one compost bin and turned another, as well as weeding great stretches of the pathway clear of weeds.

The garden's sprinkler, which used to come on for 15 minutes once a week across about 1/3 of the garden, has been switched off for a long time now, and some of our plants are looking a little parched.  Unless you live under a rock you'll know we're in year 4 of a drought that threatens the state, and as a result the nation's produce supply, so xeric and drought tolerant garden is the in thing right now.

After: clean!
When you take into account that a pound of almonds takes an estimated 400 gallons of water to grow, and a pound of beef takes 2500 gallons, you're going to want to lay off the nuts and burgers among other things. And as for lawns? Let them die, people.

If you want some xeric plant suggestions for your garden or patio, you're in the right place: click the Plant Profiles link at the top right and read about the stars of the show at PG and PRG. Yes, you can have a luscious garden without much water.

PS apologies if I have all the names wrong this week - it was hot out!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Many thanks to the Clean & Green Team

Clean & Green Team
I'm going to keep this brief and leave it to the photos! To get the garden ready for the upcoming 'Greater and Greener' Conference that will be visiting the garden, Julia from the San Francisco Parks Alliance arranged to have the Clean & Green Team come work with us. We had a great time and it made a huge difference to Pennsylvania Railroad Garden. Many thanks to everyone who helped!

Paul working hard to make
the pathway better
Julia making the pathway look good
Annie poses before getting
back to work
Despite injury Matt
did a ton of work and
was all smiles!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Two extra special chances to volunteer! March 28th & April 4th

Bentley is ready to help at the workdays
Extra special workdays you say?

We've been invited to participate in the Greater and Greener conference, which will feature our gardens as part of their bus tour. This is a big deal, as the "conference will bring 1,000 global park leaders, city planning and design professionals, and urban park advocates to San Francisco, to discover the power of parks in creating healthy, resilient, and sustainable cities." I think it's an honor that we've been asked to participate, and showcase how hopefully healthy, resilient and sustainable our gardens are!

To get the gardens looking extra special, we have added an additional workday on March 28th. At our usual first of the month workday (April 4th) we will make sure the gardens are in tip-top shape for the conference April 11th-14th, with the big tour being April 13th. You're welcome to attend both or either workdays, per usual meetup at 10am at Pennsylvania Garden. We provide all the necessary tools and training, just come ready to have fun and make your neighborhood look great!

If you have any questions you can contact me at:

For more information on the Greater and Greener Conference, please see:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lost treasures.

Last weekend Matt and I were at the garden eating our customary bagels from Hazel's and coffee from Farley's when we discovered a load of trash at the bench. Which really means a homeless person's stash of junk or the castoffs from a theft. Either way.

Among the pile was a lot of photographs dating from around the 1880s to the 1920s. I like that sort of thing so I brought them home, only to find some had names handwritten on them.

I started looking up the names online, and discovered two that led somewhere. One led me to the Find a Grave website and I was able to add the photograph to the grave image. Hopefully the relatives of Sgt Melvin Gardner Gross like the baby photo I added. He was born and died in Pennsylvania which is apropos, and it seems like he had a good life.

The next led me to the grandson of Edna Laing Bachman, who I found on LinkedIn. I contacted him to ask if he wanted the photo, and he was happy to have it.

"As it happens, we are burying the ashes of Howard Hosmer, husband to Edna Caroline Laing Hosmer at the family plot in Tranquility New Jersey on April 17th. The family will enjoy seeing the pictures."

So her photo will be with her daughter's husband and family. One person's trash is another person's treasure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dog area reclaimed and other news

Bill, Michelle, Will and Leslie
get the dog area into shape
We had a super productive workday on Saturday, and I want to thank everyone who made it happen: Jackie, Bill, Nate, Will, Michelle, Connie, Leslie and Jean. This crew really got to it and reclaimed huge areas of the garden from weeds and did a lot of extra tasks too. I encourage everyone to make at least one volunteer workday, as we always have a lot of fun and it's a great feeling to look out over the garden and know you made something beautiful and green happen.

All clean! Jean, Jackie
and Nate posing in a now
picturesque dog area
As for the specifics, if you've been in the dog area lately you could not help but notice how much of a weed jungle it had become. As we started pulling out waist-high weeds I half expected to find a small dog living among them.

Even turning compost
can be fun, really!
As a crew we pulled on, digging when necessary, to reclaim the dog area from weeds. Meanwhile Jackie made the path along the cactus wall accessible, as it was almost entirely blocked by shrubbery. Nate also reclaimed a pathway by the beautiful (and getting ever larger!) Agave attenuata, making it a bit wider to accommodate the growing plant.

If you spend $5 on coffee
you can find a trash can!
jeez people 
Later on Alison removed the graffiti from the kiosk at Pennsylvania Railroad Garden with a little chemical solvent (yay for our anti-graffiti film!), and I walked up and down the garden removing a ton of trash. It's amazing how just removing trash makes the garden look way better, so I was glad to spend the time and energy on it.

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