Saturday, October 31, 2009

Death to Nasturtiums! Death, I tell you!

Today, despite a little hangover (it's Halloween, come on) Matt and I managed to remove all the Nasturtiums in the front bed. 4 wheelbarrows full!  You can see in the pic at left about half the pile we removed.

I spent the whole time remembering myself skipping about the garden back in Spring, gaily flinging Nasturtium seeds around, and imagining the festive yellow and orange flowers we'd have. Hah! What we got instead was rampant overgrowth of self-seeding, plant-suffocating evilness. Hopefully we sorted that problem out today.

Matt also moved some Alstroemerias to the cherry tree area, I weeded, watered and tidied the bed behind the wrong way sign, and deadheaded Cannas. There's a massive new crop of corn marigolds coming up from the seeds that fell there - great news!

Speaking of Halloween, you can also see a scarecrow in the pic today. Annelle and Gary wanted to put it in the garden for Halloween - I keep seeing it from the corner of my eye and thinking someone's standing there! I'm a bit of a garden purist and am not fond of decorations and statuary but they managed to get me to agree to this as a one time deal. Ooooh, they are just too darn nice. Curses! ;)

Since the rain we had recently a lot of weeds have sprung up. Going to need to have a weeding party next weekend. Anyone want to join us on Saturday the 7th, 11am-1pm?

Friday, October 30, 2009

New guerrilla garden = more happy hours of playing in the dirt

A good friend of P. Garden has recently started work on a new guerrilla garden in San Francisco. I won't say who, or where, but Matt and I went over to help him plant the first plants on this large, steeply sloping, (abandoned for at least 6 months and in dire need of help) patch of land, and it's just thrilling to see someone so excited about beautifying our city! I hope his garden grows and is enjoyed by many for years to come.

I popped out to P. Garden on Tuesday to water in the new plants, and had a lovely chat with neighbor Michael and his gorgeous little daughter Noa. It warms the very cockles of my heart to see parents and kids in the garden, enjoying the flowers. Another neighbor Eddy and his pug Rosie were out snuffling around (well, Rosie was snuffling - I can't speak for Eddy!) Then some more dog owners came by and told me how much they loved the garden, and a car stopped coming off the freeway to shout "it looks beautiful!" before driving off. It's these spontaneous kind words that really make the work worthwhile.

Someone recently asked me how much time this garden has taken to create, and I calculated that since each time I go to the garden to work I spend at least 1 hour, and often more like 6+, I've put in easily 1500 hours in the last 10 months. That averages out to at least an hour per day, if you calculate on the low side, and it doesn't include the countless hours spent by other volunteers on the garden.

However, it's truly been a pleasure, and the number of neighbors who can enjoy the garden now means it's way more than worth it. It seems like almost every single person I talk to in the garden is delighted with it's progress, and can't wait to see how the garden will evolve over the years.

Photo above shows a cactus flowering away, while waiting for a spot to be planted on the cactus wall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm not one to toot my own horn...

...but if you call me up and ask me about the garden, I will happily drone on about it for hours. And that's what happened to Katie, the reporter from the San Francisco Examiner who wanted to hear about the situation at P. Garden.

Despite that she called back and said Mike the photographer would be there to take my picture in half an hour. As I skittered over there from work I pondered the tragically unphotogenic nature of my self, the gritty (muddy?) lack of sartorial polish usually displayed by the average Real Gardener, and how much lip gloss, then, would ameliorate the reality of the former without compromising my attempts to be the latter. Answer, in case this is keeping you up at night: one swipe of a neutral shade. Ha!

Enough of my discomfort with cameras. Mike was lovely and talkative and liked to take pictures involving cars whizzing by, me looking "natural" (say what now?) and people in the garden looking at flowers and trying to prevent their infants from eating worms. Just as he was about to leave, a guy walked up who turned out to be David Cody of 18th and Rhode Island garden fame. He was not wearing lip gloss (dammit!) and went on to talk at length about super-oxygenated compost tea and permacultural issues that are beyond my simple understanding. Oh look... a ladybug!

Ahem. Then I had to run back to work. The article is in the Examiner today! Click here to read it.
Photo above is by Gary who came out to find out what all the horn tooting was about...  from left to right: me, David, Mike.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Plant profile: Salvia

Salvia leucantha
Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, with about 900 species of shrubs, perennials and annuals in it. And what a great group of plants for P. Garden they are! Usually tough and sun-loving, they flower freely and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. And the regular Salvia officinalis is a plant you already know about if you've ever eaten sage!

Latin name: Salvia ("SAL-vee-uh")
Common name: Sage
Originally from: All over the world.
Blooms: Shades of purple, blue, white and red, most commonly. 
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 24"-15' tall and wide
USDA Zones: 9a-11b
Where to find in P. Garden: Almost every bed has a Salvia of some sort.

Salvia "Blue Victoria"
The name is derived from the Latin salvere ("to save"), referring to the long-believed healing properties of salvia. The Latin was corrupted to 'sauja', to the French 'sauge', and to the old English 'sawge', and eventually became the modern day 'sage'. Pliny the Elder was the first to use the Latin name salvia. Thought in ancient times to perpetuate good health, an Arab proverb asks, “How shall a man die with sage in his garden?”

At P. Garden we have several large clumps of Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) covered in purple and white flowers right now (top image, left) - they flower from April to December, which is serious bang for your buck. And the hummingbirds love them - they actually fight over who gets to feed there.

Salvia argentea
In the front bed there are six small, bright purple-blue Salvia "Blue Victoria" (photo 2) which are supposedly annuals (Update: they came back, but got mildewey and died) and near the giant Agave called Moby Dick we have the large, fuzzy-leaves of Silver Sage (Salvia argentea) just begging to be petted (photo 3). This one flowered in the Spring, with a tall spike of white flowers. I thought it was done for, as it's supposedly a biennial (only lives 2 years) but I read on the intarwebs that if you cut off the flower stalk when it's over, they can regenerate. And it did! In fact, it's flowering again a year later.

In the left bed a Salvia apiana (White sage, bee sage, or sacred sage) is rambling over the path with whitish leaves. This one can take an occasional prune to keep it bushy and medium-sized.

Salvia greggii "Moonlight"
Salvia mellifera (Black Sage) is growing behind the bench area. It has highly aromatic leaves, but it's not especially ornamental in and of itself, so I moved it from the front of the bench to the dog area in 2011 and it's adapted well.

Mexico and Texas native Salvia greggii "Moonlight", of which we have two specimens, grows in the left bed - it has lovely buttermilk flowers that go on and on.

Salvia gesneriiflora
In the brights bed we have the impressive Salvia gesneriiflora "Tequila" (Big Mexican Scarlet Sage) - a 12' tall red and black-flowered monster that has certainly been growing as fast as it can.  Next to it is the rose-pink Salvia involucrata - almost as tall and wide - and on the opposite end of that bad is Salvia canariensis (Canary Island Sage), all covered in downy white fluff and lavender flowers.

In the same bed, near the bench, we also have Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage, with pineapple-scented leaves and red flowers. Then there's Salvia mexicana "Limelight" which is just getting started, and Salvia curviflora which may or may not make it... fingers crossed: it's bright pink! (Update: it died :( )

Salvia leucantha x
elegans "Anthony Parker"
And finally Salvia leucantha x elegans "Anthony Parker" lives in the red bed. I bought it because it was alleged to have "extraordinary, nearly 2 ft. long spires of midnight purple-black, leucantha-like flowers topping attractive leaves and young downy white stems." It was a long wait, but it's finally bloomed and it's quite nice, I must say.

UPDATE: Some didn't make it through 5 years of drought. Say a prayer please for Salvia elegans, Salvia "Blue Victoria", Salvia greggii "Moonlight", Salvia mexicana "Limelight", Salvia curviflora and Silver Sage (Salvia argentea). The rest are going gangbusters and tougher than a tough thing!

In other news, Salvia mellifera (Black Sage)was just boring if I'm honest, and I moved it somewhere and forgot to properly water it in. Shame upon me - it died.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn - it's the new Summer

Here in Frisky Town Autumn (or Fall as you may like to call it) is warm and sunny, with the odd brisk or rainy day to shut you up when you start to get complacent.

Today was warm, as you can see from the view from the bench, left. Matt, John and I drove to Burlingame to buy coats. No, I mean get plants. At the crack of 9am. Craigslister Lisa was giving away 8 lavenders ("Hidcote") and 6 Limonium (Statice, or Sea Lavender) which she'd had a change of heart about, and it took mere minutes to dig them up and drag them away.

After that, John and I went to the garden to plant those, a whole load of other plants he gave us, and a few I bought up in Mendocino recently. Here's what we put in the ground:

Behind the Wrong Way sign:
6 Limonium
I also transplanted several corn marigolds and a red Pelargonium to fill in the area directly behind the sign, and deadheaded the cannas.

In the left bed (where we recently lost two Echiums to wind damage):
1Berberis Thunbergii F Atropurpurea "Royal Burgundy"
1 Verbascum olympicum
1 unknown yellow Verbascum
1 Buddleja x weyeriana "Honeycomb" 
2 clumps of Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears)
1 Nicotiana with green flowers - not sure which one

Along the steps:
2 Achillea "Moonshine" 
4 Achillea millefolium (white)
3 Achillea millefolium - might be "Terra Cotta"?
Silene coronaria "Alba" (Rose campion)

We also planted John's Fremontodendron californicum (California flannelbush - a native).

We also weeded, deadheaded, pruned and all the other tidying up you do as you go around the garden. John left, and Matt came back from surfing, and we finished up with some watering of the new plants. I got to visit with Jess, Adolfo, Sofia, Jim, and Carrie today.  You couldn't ask for nicer neighbors!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Frisky Town wants YOU to make a garden.

After all the covert operations involved in making a guerrilla garden, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only have Caltrans ended up being quite reasonable about my squatting on their land after a little initial resistance, but they went on to connect me with DPW who are almost ecstatic about it all. H'm. It's hard to be a rebel gardener when the officials are encouraging you! ;)

And now the SF Parks Trust are on a GIY (garden-it-yourself ) bender and are putting on a series of talks in order to enable to wannabe-green-thumbs out there who lack that one precious, critical item: San Francisco real estate.

Tuned-in P. Garden volunteer Emily forwarded the info below to me - I might have to attend one of these meetings!

The SF Parks Trust, along with Garden for the Environment, are working with the city to locate new plots of land to start community gardens. To find our more, please read the announcement below about upcoming planning meetings.

Garden City: How to find space to grow food in San Francisco
Three Part Workshop series
Have you been dreaming of starting your own urban oasis, a garden where you can grow you own food and find some piece of mind, but you don’t have any space and don’t know where to look to find some? This three part practical workshop series is for you. Attend one workshop, or all three. This workshop series is co-presented by the San Francisco Parks Trust and Garden for the Environment.

Garden City Workshop I: Finding City Land for a Garden
Date: Sunday, October 25
Time: 10 AM – 3 PM
Location: SPUR, 654 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105-4015
Cost: $15-$30 sliding scale
Pre-registration is required, and space is limited, so sign-up soon.
To pre-register, please call (415)750-5110, or email

Even though San Francisco is a very dense city, there are more open parcels of land than one would think. In this session, learn how to identify possible spaces for gardens in San Francisco, including city property, privately owned lots, school gardens, sidewalks and backyards. The basic pros and cons of each option will be explored. After a brief lunch break, workshop participants will venture out on a bicycle tour of gardens implemented in such spaces. All participants should bring a bag lunch, water, and a bicycle.

Garden City Workshop II: Navigating Permits, Procedures and Building Community Support for your Garden
Date: Sunday, November 8
Time: 10 AM – 2 PM
Location: SPUR, 654 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105-4015
Cost: $15- $30 sliding scale
Pre-registration is required, and space is limited, so sign-up soon.
To pre-register, please call (415)750-5110, or email

After you find a potential garden site, what’s next? In this session, learn how to successfully navigate the procedures and permits relevant to your type of site. Learn how to effectively build community support for your garden project and cultivate a committed volunteer group to ensure your garden thrives. A panel of successful garden-entrepreneurs will share how they launched their projects and lessons learned in the process. All participants should bring a bag lunch.

Garden City Workshop III: Digging In: Getting your Garden Started
Date: Sunday, November 15
Time: 10 AM – 2 PM
Location: Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave. at Lawton Street, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $15-$30 sliding scale
Pre-registration is required, and space is limited, so sign-up soon.
To pre-register, please call (415)750-5110, or email

You’ve identified a site for your garden, you’ve completed all appropriate permits and built community support, now it’s time to dig in and create your dream garden. The day will start with a tour of the GFE where we will begin to build our garden skills toolbox. We will assess potential challenges and gain techniques for overcoming those challenges through basic garden design practices, plant considerations, irrigation systems, soil, compost systems, and much more! Don’t forget to bring a bag lunch!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Google Maps - updated!

I am fond of a good 'before and after" picture set. helps you see how far you've come. Gary recently told me that the Google maps team had been out in their wacky vehicle updating the street view images for our area. And they got the garden, too!

If you Google "271 Pennsylvania Avenue, San Francisco, CA" and then click on the red pin marked "A" and select "street view" you will see it. Or just click here! I think that is Annelle in the picture too! If that's all too tricky, take a peek at the image left that I saved showing the before image (top) and after (bottom.)

Looks like they took the photos in around May or June, but updated them online just recently. I wonder when they'll do it next, and what the garden will look like then?

PS I saw this today - it's about the guys who drive the Google maps car. Pretty funny.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time for a change

Fall is a good time to plant plants, and move things to better spots - mostly because the cool air and rains help the plants get established so they can go berserk in Spring. If you live in San Francisco you can't fail to have noticed the rain we've had recently, so the ground is good and wet.

So today I moved some things around, with the excellent help of Josh!

The middle back bed (with the Princess Plant) was looking too purple. I had originally intended the area to be purple withyellow/orange as a contrast, but several plants showed up that ended up being too pinkish or blueish. This was really jarring to my eye, so they had to go.

There were also too many shades of purple and not enough yellow to balance it, so two Geranium macrorhizum and all the dusty pink Alstroemerias moved under the cherry plum trees where they can be pink without annoying me ;) A Ceanothus went up to the top of the garden. We also rearranged the Lantanas, Stachys, Cuphea, Acorus and Bulbines in a better way, and brought a Euryops over for added yellow. When I move the Salvia "Anthony Parker" there will be room for another mid-sized yellow flowering shrub. Any ideas?

Josh also brought three Agave tequilana for the garden - Matt will be thrilled! ;) We pulled out a wheelbarrow full of weeds, and decided that the best way to deal with the annoying soggy spot outside this bed, which has resisted two attempts to fix it, will be improved by a French drain running across the path under the wood chips. In other words, I need about two yards of gravel.

I also finished drilling the final piece of wood for the bench area and pounded it in, rearranged the bricks a bit and added sand. All I have to do now is cut a few bricks in half to fill the end gaps, plant some ground cover and it's done!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Today I nipped out at lunchtime to take care of a few things in the garden.

I planted some Achilleas that Leah had donated. I put six "Summer Pastels" under a cherry plum tree (fast becoming the pale-pinks-and-pastels area, with the cherry blossoms in Springtime, and the white Iberis sempervirens groundcover) as well as six "Cerise Queen" in the front border. I have six there in groups of three already, and they are hot, hot pink! I think this works well with the Gaillardias (photo left), Salvias and Gazanias.
I did have to rip out armfuls of naughty Nasturtiums from the front bed - they had reseeded and were in the process of smothering some smaller plants. I put some of the torn-out Nasturtiums into the worm bin, and some in the compost bin. Hope the heat will kill the seeds, and they can turn into something useful (compost) instead...

I also admired the Chrysanthemums I planted in honor of my recently departed kitty, Pulgita (left). They are quite brash - Puggie would have approved!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Last night I watered the cactus wall, succulent slope and bamboo - my usual weekly time spent standing in the storm drain ditch!

I have been pondering the water situation recently. It's always been my hope to have a garden that doesn't rely on water, as we have a bit of a shortage going on. However, I have looked around at other gardens and realize that many gardens (private and public) are watered quite often. They get to have some pretty cool plants as a result!

I've also seen how roasting hot it can get at P. Garden, compared to other gardens, and how even supposedly drought tolerant plants look a bit rough without any water during the summer.

So, my plan is to have a compromise. Next year I hope to have the water sprinklers come on once a week during the summer for a real soaking. This will promote deeper, stronger root systems. I'll continue to regretfully reject plants that need lots of water, and move plants that need a bit more to areas that are more sheltered and hold water better. It will be a bit of a shake-out, with some plants not making it I expect. I envision a plant sale in Spring with lots of Cannas in pots available!

The hand-watered areas (cactus wall, succulent slope, bamboo area) will only get watered every other week then - they should be well established. That'll take a couple hours a week off my schedule, and reduce my time spend wrestling with the hateful hose.

How often do you water your garden, and where do you live? Tell me what you think!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Big dig

One of the water pipes under the center of the garden has been leaking for ages - every time the sprinklers go on a huge boggy spot appears. Caltrans guys came and said they fixed it, but no - still boggy. And they didn't have any money or resources left to fix the pipe. So on Sunday I started digging...

And digging... and digging. With no real way of knowing where the pipe was, I had to dig out a dozen plants and a bunch of daffodil bulbs too. Some holes filled with water, some didn't - I used that as my guide to where the water was seeping from. Various people walkign int he garden gave words of encouragement; Juan and dog, and then Chris and Jean. Then Jim showed up to help me right when I had located a pipe!

We uncovered a lot of the pipe, and it became clear that without switching on the water we couldn't really see where it was flowing from. I called Robert who has access to the water controller, and he said he'd send his guy Saul out to look at it on Monday. I for one was very relieved! We flagged off the hole and mound of dirt, and left for the day.
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