Monday, September 28, 2009

Stop what you are doing and smell the flowers!

On Friday evening I went out for a spot of weeding, seed collecting, and deadheading. I also put the pruned bamboo canes along the top lavender hedge to prevent continued damage by feet and paws. I need to stake them down.

At one point I looked up to see a couple sitting on the bench, enjoying the warm evening together quietly, and I felt very proud that everyone's hard work on the garden has culminated in this happy little scene. Would anyone had sat (stood) in the garden (well, weedy doog poop zone) at this time last year enjoying anything at all about it? I don't think so.

On Saturday I got out and planted the daffodil (Narcissus) bulbs I'd ordered back in May. I put groupings of five of each type all up and down the steps area, rearranged some of the Muscari bulbs, and put two of the alpine strawberry (Fragraria)  plants on the other side of the steps in a more irregular pattern. I considered removing all the alpine strawberries to pots and putting them on craigslist, because they are apparently edible, as well as not particiularly drought tolerant, but they're doing so well that I didn't want to move them yet.

It was hot, so I had plenty of rests on the bench with my cool drink, but the scents in that area are amazing: the white rose ("Iceberg"?) is flowering away as usual, the strawberries and jasmine smell delicious, and the African Blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal') added it's spicy notes. When the mock orange, buddleja and paperwhites start flowering it's going to be almost unbearable!

On Saturday evening Leah donated some lovely yarrows (Achillea) and flats of useful groundcover - I'll have to get those in the ground this week! Also Joan gave me about a dozen huge packets of wildflower seeds - I'll be able to go on an absolute seed sprinkling bender when the rains come.  I can't wait! Thanks Joan and Leah :)

Photo above is a cactus of some sort that Channing gave us, flowering away by the fence.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Plant profile: Achillea

Achillea - ordinary
Does this plant look familiar? It’s predictable, boring, and actually a weed. Not! More like dependable, heat-loving, drought-spurning, long-flowering, easy to grow and comes in a great range of colors.

Latin name: Achillea (pronounced ack-ee-LAY-ah)
Common name: Yarrow, Sneezeweed, Milfoil, as well as the others mentioned below.*
Originally from: Europe and parts of Asia.
Blooms: White, yellow, red and pink, the large clusters of flowers form a flat platform at the top of the plant.
"Coronation Gold"
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought flippant. Actually, good luck killing the white kind...
Drainage: Well drained soil
Height x width: 24"-36" x 24"
USDA Zones:  3-9
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed by the steps we have Achillea tomentosa (Woolly Yarrow) and several shades of A. millefolium: the wild white version (top), yellow ("Coronation Gold" and "Moonshine" - second pic) and orange ("Terracotta") In the front middle bed we have the red/orange “Walter Funke” (third pic) and the mixed shades of "Summer Pastels" under the cherry plum trees, with "Red Velvet" and "Feuerland" in the red bed.  Finally, in the front bed we have the pink "Cerise Queen” (last pic.)

The Achillea genus has about 85 species in it, in the Aster family. The genus was named for the Greek mythological character Achilles. According to the Iliad, the centaur Chiron taught Achilles to use yarrow on the battle grounds of Troy, hence some of its common names such as Allheal and Bloodwort. Herbal militaris was another name used way back when, for the same reason.

"Walter Funke"
Yarrow has seen historical use as a medicine for all sorts of things in all sorts of cultures, mainly because of its astringent effects and the salicylic acid in it. It’s been used to treat inflammations such as piles (hemorrhoids), and also headaches. Confusingly, it has been said to both stop bleeding and promote it, as well as speed recovery from severe bruising.

The Saxons believed it gave protection from everything from blindness to barking dogs, the Chinese use dried yarrow stalks to cast the Yi-Jing, Shakers used yarrow for complaints from hemorrhages to flatulence and in the 1500s, the British herbalist John Gerard recommended it for relieving "swelling of those secret parts." Lordy!

The most medicinally active part of the plant are the flowering tops. They also have a mild stimulant effect, and have been used as a snuff. Today, yarrow is valued mainly for its action in colds and influenza, and also for its effect on the circulatory, digestive, excretory, and urinary systems. It's basically a one-stop shop for all your ailments!

"Cerise Queen”
* Old folk names of yarrow include bad man's plaything, death flower, devil's nettle, seven year's love, snake's grass and arrowroot. You know when a plant has names like that that it’s been around for a long time, and has a lot of uses. Achillea millefolium is the species we have grown so far, and in New Mexico and southern Colorado it is called plumajillo, or "little feather," for the shape of the leaves.

UPDATE: After several years of drought I can definitively say the regular old white kind of Achillea is a weed. It runs everywhere and cannot be killed, which I endeavor to do frequently. The other kinds are not so sassy and look lovely, though only the "Coronation Gold" lasted and I will have to get a few more of those!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

(Insert agave-related pun here)

This morning Matt and I went to Flora Grubb Gardens with Emily to enjoy their free agave talk (left.) Lots of cool agaves to be seen! Turns out I am watering ours a smidge too much - I'll cut back to every other week and see how they do. Maybe even less. Means I'll have to move some Aeoniums from the cactus wall to a cooler spot but well worth the savings in time, water and effort.

Later on we went to the garden and took care of some items on the To Do list:

- Planted out 6 seedlings from seeds Leah gave us - don't know what they are so they went in a variety of sun, shade, wet and dry places.
- Started on framing the bricks by the bench, then Matt's drill died. One left to do.
- Watered the cactus wall.
- Planted three groups of Bulbines donated by John. Actually John planted them - thanks! Not sure what species but they are very cool.
- Kepa came by and ID-ed a plant we have in the red bed: it's a palo verde (Parkinsonia) which should make a nice large shrub with yellow flowers. Cool.

Photo left shows an interesting red cage fungus growing at the top of the garden. Quiet surreal!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Today I had a meeting with our gal Becky from Caltrans and friendly Sandra from DPW. Robert of Triangle Garden fame came too and we all got togther and talked encroachment permits. Fun times!

Caltrans, as you may recall from my frequent bleatings, are unnerved by the arch/bench/steps and so on, and wished them gone. So they hooked up with DPW, who are extremely relaxed about such things, and DPW are going to oversee that stuff. Not assume liability*, as I'd first thought, but certainly help with tool loaning, workshops, maybe even volunteers! And Sandra loved the bench. All I have to do is more (groan) paperwork. Everyone's happy!

So after much back-patting and smiles all round, I dragged Sandra and Becky down the street to the area in front of Center Hardware and asked if they might fix the fence so I can plant some agaves and bougainvilleas there. It's a bit of a homeless freeway but if the fence is put right, a few strategically placed agaves where the beleagered sunflowers are now will fit the bill - drought tolerant and, um, not conducive to snuggling up among.

Yes folks - just what I need. Another spot to garden on. Even my eyes are rolling!

Photo above: a lovely red iceplant (Lampranthus) and Agave 

* Who assumes liability? I don't know. Hope it's not me. Gulp.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Plant profile: Aster

Usually blooming after other flowers have finished for the year, asters are associated with afterthought and cheerfulness in old age. Way back in December we decided we'd need a bit of cheering up the following fall, when, we anticipated, the rest of our flowers would be defunct. We bought the biggest, baddest perennial aster we could find - "Bill's Big Blue" - which has gone one to flatten several nearby plants with it's monstrousness, and flower maniacally, absolutely coated in cute violet-blue flowers like a hippie Sherman tank. This vigorous aster is from Bay Area nurseryman Ed Carman.

Latin name: Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ("sim-fee-oh-TRICK-um BELL-gee-eye")
Common name: New York Aster, Michaelmas Daisy
Originally from: Eurasia and North America
Blooms: In the fall it's absolutely covered in little violet-blue daisy-like flowers with a yellow center.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Average.
Where to find in P. Garden: In the middle back bed - if you walk in via the path by the Wrong Way sign you can't miss it right now.

An insect favorite, ours is currently covered in bees and butterflies. We'll have to save some seeds and get a couple more of these going for next year. One notable thing about this flower is that its number of petals is a Fibonacci number. How bored a person must have been to have sat and figured that out one cannot imagine - perhaps it was some sort of punishment devised for prisoners or schoolchildren.

We also have the pink, lavender and purple annual China aster, Callistephus chinensis, (left) growing by the steps this year, from seed sent over by a friend from Tasmania. They got a late start this year and look a bit sparse but maybe they'll reseed and do better next year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's Springtime! Somewhere...

I am looking forward to Spring. In fact, I have been looking forward to it since May!

Back in January pretty much the only thing happening in the garden was daffodils. I'd ordered 600 mixed bulbs and they flowered in waves for months, really brightening up the depths of winter. Since they were mixed I never knew what shade of yellow, orange, pink or white would pop up where. Paraphrasing Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, I thought "you cannot be too rich, or too thin, or have too many daffodils!" so back in May I ordered more bulbs from *greedy cackle!*

They are usually pretty inexpensive when ordered early in the year - you just have to be patient and wait for them to arrive, which happens pretty much right when you forget you ever ordered them. Today I got a package in the mail - 125 daff bulbs!

This time I got named varieties though, so I would be able to group them nicely by color - 25 each of the following:

"Replete" - a double pink and white (gaudy!)
"Mount Hood" - pure white (elegant!)
"White Lion" - double white and yellow.
"Large Cup Flower Record" - orange and white.
Tazetta "Golden Dawn" - a very early yellow with multiple flowers on each stem.

However, it looks like messed up the order and sent me 25 "Fragrant Rose" instead of my "Replete"... Hmmm... I called them up today and they are sending out the "Replete" bulbs right quick, and I can keep the "Fragrant Rose" bulbs. Great customer service! And it works for me - more pink daffodils. Wallis Simpson nods in approval, and I rub my grimy mitts together and have another gleeful cackle.

I plan to put them in groups running up and down the steps. Then I'll plant white and yellow yarrows  between them so we'll have white and yellow in that area from early spring through to the end of autumn.  Along with the jasmine on the trellis, thyme creeping up the steps, white ginger, paperwhites and the mock orange, the entire area is going to be themed and scented quite nicely.

Not sure where I'll put those pink "Replete" and "Fragrant Rose" bulbs though - they're so decadent!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Garden Tour a success

Today was the Potrero Hill Garden Club Tour in support of the Potrero Hill Library. 15 gardens were on the tour and we were "open" from 10am-3pm. John joined me in the garden all day to answer questions and do some final primping - thanks so much for giving me some company!

What a day. Lots of people stopped by, including two old friends I haven't seen in ages,  and we sat on the bench and caught up - it was lovely. And with all those people came lots of questions that I hope I answered successfully. The final tally is:

Most commented upon garden feature: The twig borders
Number of sandwiches consumed by me for lunch: 0.5
Favorite plant: The Princess Plant! Closely followed by the Scarlet Flax and Agastache.
Number of times story of Caltrans explained: hundreds
Number of people who sat on the new bench: 12
Number of tickets sold: 170
Amount of money raised for the library: $3500!!!
I was too tired in the end to attend Kepa's potluck afterwards, but it was a really fun day. Thanks to everyone who got the garden ready for it's big show!

Photos top to bottom: Front to back: Osteospermum, California poppy, Aster "Bill's Big Blue" plus Plectranthus on the right.

Agastache "Apricot Sprite," Red California poppy, Linum grandiflorum "Rubrum" (Scarlet Flax), Leucadendron.

Agave americana variegata  and Achillea "Walter Funke" 
Euphorbia myrsinites and Crassula capitella subsp. thyrsiflora.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bench, part deux!

OK, so today, dammit, I was going to get stuff done in the garden for the tour tomorrow. During the week I moved wheelbarrows full of mulch, and Josh moved the rest, as well as weeding heroically in my absence. And today he returned and along with Matt helped me for hours weeding, trimming, planting and tidying. Specifically we:

- Planted Agaves and cacti.
- Removed all the bricks in the bench area, applied heavy plastic to deter weeds, then sand to level, then replaced the bricks and added more sand to hold them in place.
- Weeded the steps.
- Trimmed and deadheaded and primped various plants.
- Planted a Yucca in a pot by the fence to root it for later.
- Tidied up the cabinet and pot area significantly.

I also chatted with Jess and Sofia  and  Jess's brother, and also Maria. So that was about 11.30am-3pm-ish. We left the garden feeling very pleased. Thanks Josh!

And now onto out headlining story. As a fanatic reader of the P. Garden blog you will recall that we wanted a bench. OK, I wanted a bench - when it's hot out I just want to sit in the shade between violent bursts of hacking at the unwilling dirt. So I got Gary on board as I knew the job would actually get done that way ;) A little while ago we started the project.

Around 6pm we met Gary in the garden. He has been working away on the new bench, using the beautiful old cast iron ends he got from a friend at Golden Gate Park, and the ipe wood we bought, and today we installed it. Oh yes, the culmination of many hours of work on his part, and it looks just stunning!

Here's how we got it there: first, Gary used his forklift truck to carry it up the sidewalk to the Wrong Way sign. Then I accosted a nice guy innocently out on a walk with his dog: Robert and his chunky bulldog Clarence! Robert kindly agreed to help carry the (very heavy) bench into place with Gary, Matt and Sage.

I took photos - I am just a weak little woman and cannot be expect to carry heavy items of ironmongery about, especially after tweaking my back faffing about with bricks earlier.  Ahem. Anyway, the manly men carried the bench to the shady area I'd bricked under the ornamental cherry trees, and put it in place. Then they all had a sit on it. Very nice.

You can see from the photos that is has some lovely detail - two roses embossed in each cast iron end. The ipe wood seat, carefully constructed by Gary, is smooth and splinter-free, should be weatherproof and last a good long time. And unlike the average bench one finds in parks, this one is very comfortable to sit on, and accommodates four manly men without feeling squashed. Or probably about 6 or 7 children/other small animals. Or one recumbent bum. Yes, I know what you're thinking - what if homeless persons take up residence on the bench? Well I'm going to install a motion activated sprinkler so anyone who fancies a nap on the bench between about midnight and 5am will get a cold shower. That ought to work ;)

Gary also chained the bench to a tree for now - later on we'll fasten it securely to the ground. I've bought some rebar stakes and will add timber to the front and sides of the bricked area, as well as cutting a few bricks in half to straighten out the edge. But we have the bench in place for the tour - a major feat and one which many people contributed to: Matt, Sage, Barbara, Max, Robert, Joan, and last but certainly not least Gary, who masterminded the project and brought his technical expertise to play to make it happen.

I hope you all spend plenty of time sitting on that bench, enjoying the garden. I'm going to park myself on it tomorrow - it's going to be a fun day.

Thank you Team Pennsylvania Garden!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Long weekend

So much planned, so little time (considering it's a 3 day weekend!)

Saturday morning I met Emily who gave me a lovely bunch of brilliant red Dahlias she grew herself and a massive bag of Watsonias. Nice!

Then I managed to miss meeting Lee who left me a worm composting bin (ooooh - exciting!) and Heather (missed her by just seconds it seems). I'm going to close off the big compost bin for now and start adding household compostables to the worm bin.... can't wait to see what it produces!

I spent a few hours widening, levelling and generally futzing with the future site of the bench. Gary came by and gave me some suggestions, and I think I got it as level as I could... but it's still a bit rustic as you can see. Matt helped me add the bricks that Joan donated - they are wonderful Victorian bricks with a "CH" imprinted on them. Handmade too - they are all different. They look white in the pics but that's left over mortar from the chimney they used to be part of in the Mission.

I was curious about the "CH" and looked on the interwebs, thinking that this would likely be a fruitless search... and immediately found the following at

"The initials 'C. H.,' impressed in the brick of which our new City Hall is built, put there to denote that they were intended for that edifice, may (should they prove to possess the lasting properties claimed for them) become to the antiquar[ians] of the remote future a source of much worriment as they labor to decipher their probable meaning."

(Henry G. Hanks, Fourth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the Year Ending May 15, 1884 (Sacramento: California State Mining Bureau, 1884), 144; quoted in Karl Gurke, Bricks and Brickmaking: a Handbook for Historical Archaeology (University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho, 1987), 1. )

Um, well, there you go!

I'll probably put black plastic under them to prevent weeds, re-lay them, and put sand between them to hold them steady. I may also place a landscaping timber at the front and left sides to hold them in. Then Gary is going to add the bench. Can't wait!

The Potrero Hill Garden Club tour is on Sept 13th and the club planned a pre-tour for all the gardeners today. So if you're part of the tour, and can't escape to see others' gardens, you get to see 'em anyway. What a show! We some some awesome, cool gardens today and met some fantastic people. John, P. Garden plant acquisition expert, came along too, and we just had a blast :) I also managed to snag a free piece of succulent I have seen around town for ages from Deborah's garden: Calandrinia grandiflora - Rock Purslane.

To backtrack a tad, before the tour I watered the cactus wall and John donated a nice big Cordyline to match the one in the entrance wine barrels that was cruelly hacked down a while back. Ahhh - symmetry is restored! Thanks John, for the Pulgita Memorial Cordyline :)

Leah came to help with all sorts of tidying up for many hours. Lee weeded and gave me a tour of the fetaures and operation of the worm composter he donated. All was going well, except in the back of my mind was the nagging knowledge that Matt had rushed to Pacifica first thing, because his horse was sick. Then he called, and it became clear that his horse needed to be transported to UC Davis for emergency help.... we got on the road and arrived in Davis around 4pm in a panic, but it was too late and his sweet horse Matador had to be put to sleep. To cap it off my car decided to die on the way home, almost leaving us stranded in Novato were it not for kind Melissa who came to our rescue. We got back home at midnight in the depths of misery, all thoughts of gardening gone...

So, the second pet death in the family in 2 weeks... What a looooong weekend...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Read on

If you've been following the blog you'll know I was interviewed by the Potrero View recently. That story was published in the August version of the paper and you can now read it online, here:

My friend Melissa also sent me an article about reducing urban blight in San Francisco that supports the "broken window theory" of urban sociology:

New development in officialdom

Yesterday I got a voicemail from the lovely Arnold Joe from Caltrans. He told me he had spoken to Sandra at DPW and they are going to take out an encroachment permit for the garden! Seems like this will absolve Caltrans of liability for the shockingly dangerous things I am doing there involving malicious twig weaving, flagrant flower planting and the wanton encouragement of wildlife ;)

So I dutifully called Sandra and left her a message, and with a bit of luck we’ll have a meeting together around the 14th to talk about… stuff.

Then I got a call from Alice at Sophie Maxwell’s office who asked if I had received a call from Joe yet. Why yes I did! Seems like Alice has been pulling strings (or yanking chains) on my behalf.

Three cheers for the slightly oxidized cogs of local government finally trundling in the right direction! And for the metaphorical WD-40 of our petition, and the people who supported the garden at key points so far. It seems to be working.

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Get your tickets here!

OK, the Garden Tour is on Sept 13th and I have just received 10 tickets in the mail to sell. Here are the details. Don’t miss this opportunity to have a good nosey around some beautiful private gardens on the hill! Proceeds go to the Potrero Hill Library, which is a very worthwhile cause.

Last night I moved some rocks around, wove twigs near the trellis, and met neighbors-from-across-the-street Lee (downstairs – he’s giving me a worm compost bin! Woot!) and Miley (upstairs, with her dog Ruby.) Actually, as I was working there was an almost constant stream of people walking through the garden.... not something you would have seen a year ago, as the place was pretty nasty and there was no real reason to cross the street!

I’ve got 3 more weekend days to finish things up in time for the tour… Will the mulch mountain ever disappear? Can I suppress enough weeds in time so as not to be terminally embarrassed? Can I sort out my pots and tools area so it looks less messy? What about the Agaves and cacti languishing in the back? Can the Gazanias in the front grow fast enough to look good in time, or be swallowed up by evil Nasturtiums? Will the big Aster blow it and finish blooming before the tour? Stay tuned… and don’t forget to come to the volunteer day this Saturday from 11am-1pm to help get the garden looking good!

Pics lat left show the succulent slope and cactus wall's new, spiky additions.

Evening update: I went out and moved 4 wheelbarrows of mulch, weeded, swept the steps and chatted with a constant stream of visitors to the garden tonight: Gary & AnnellePaul, Jim, and visitors from far distant Dogpatch Gene & Heather who came to see the garden after hearing of it in the Potrero View!

The first Aster has bloomed by the steps. It is pink. Hmmm....
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