Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You Read the Blog, but do you know....

You may read the blog, but do you know:
a) we have a mailing list - you should join it to get updates about events at the garden (think of what you're missing!)
b) volunteer workdays are the first Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm. There is one this Saturday April 2nd (yes, it's April already!) volunteer here
c) it's officially Spring and the garden is already putting on quite a show (check out that photo - Anemone coronaria)

In other garden news I weeded for awhile yesterday after work and a bunch of lovely neighbors stopped by to say hello. I was asked for name of the Kool-Aid bush and blanked on it, but Annie knew it (of
course) when I asked her: Psoralea pinnata.
I look forward to seeing everyone at the workday this Saturday!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trip to Filoli

Last weekend Matt and I went to see the historic gardens of Filoli. Emily got us a membership for my birthday and since she couldn’t join us here’s my trip report!

“Recognized as one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century, Filoli welcomes the public to this remarkable 654-acre property, including the 36,000 square foot Georgian country house and spectacular 16-acre English Renaissance garden.”

You can read more of the history of the place here:

Wandering around the grounds in late March you cannot help but notice the profusion of named varieties of bulbs flowering –daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and so on. And on. And on!

I have always said you cannot have too many daffodils, and Filoli seems to employ gardeners who agree with me. Daffodils are naturalized en masse in meadows, and around the car park.

Though the display of the earlier varieties was somewhat waning when we went, there are still later flowering types coming up. All I can say is it would take an army of gardeners to deadhead all these flowers, so it’s no surprise they don’t bother with that.

But the gardeners at Filoli seem to have pounced upon a cunning plan to get maximum bang for their spring buck here. All the bulbs mentioned above have also been potted into zillions of large terracotta pots and placed in groups around any structure available. Everything from the main house steps to the bathrooms has multiple pots grouped around them. I expect that if a gardener so much as left a rake leaning against a wall for a minute, a circle of potted tulips would arrange itself around the base within seconds…

One wonders what happens during the rest of the year. When the spring bulbs peter out, and the hordes of camellias quit in late spring, I was having a hard time imagining the plantings being spectacular. I also know the area to be hot and dry in summer, and could find only 3 or 4 succulent plants in the entire place – what grows there later?

The only way to find out is to visit again in summer, which, thanks to Emily, I can do!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Please vote!

As you might have read on the Potrero Neighbors email list among others, there is $1 Million available as a settlement from the closure of the powerplant. This money is supposed to mitigate the environmental and health impacts. Could you please take a minute and place your vote for the project(s) that you would like to see completed in our neighborhood? Hint: gardens!

The meeting is tomorrow - Thursday. Please vote today!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rainy weekend

Dipogon lignosus
Well that was quite a storm. Some fierce gusts of wind and about an inch and a quarter of rain. Brings us up to about 18" since last July which is 103% of the normal average rainfall for the year so far, but it has felt wet recently.

And every time I stepped outside to visit the garden, another wave of rain came through and I retreated, shivering. I did get a couple pics yesterday though.

The very first flower has appeared on the vine climbing up the arch! Josh gave us seedlings of this vine, Dipogon lignosus (aka Dolichos lignosus) - the Australian Pea Vine or Cape Sweet Pea, which we hope will be covered in masses of pink soon.

Pink lavender
Another pink thing is the pink lavender in the lavender hedge. What variety is it? Nobody knows... must track it down. And must get more of these to dot around in the hedge.

Important meeting

In 2010 Pennsylvania Garden received a grant from the Eastern Neighborhoods Public Benefit Fund.

On March 29th the Potrero Boosters are hosting a community meeting where you can have a say in the neighborhood you want to see.

The meeting will start at 7PM, and be held at the Neighborhood House (953 De Haro St. between 20th and 22nd).

The meeting will include conversation with the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee (ENCAC), a group composed of community members appointed by the Board and Mayor to represent the interests of your neighborhood.

Let the ENCAC members hear your views on critical issues for our neighborhood: open space, transportation, street beautification, and child care. Over the next several years, the ENCAC will play a crucial role  in deciding how public benefit dollars are spent. More gardens anyone? Come and have your say!

For more information on the ENCAC, see Also, help us understand your ideas and concerns by filling out a 1-page survey at

Also at the meeting, representatives from the MTA will present the next steps for the EN TRIPS project, which is focused on infrastructure projects to improve transportation in the Eastern Neighborhoods (

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plant profile: Borago officinalis

The lovely blue flowers
How many truly blue-colored things in nature are edible? Not many, that's for sure - but Borage flowers are one of them. Their sweet honey-like taste is a traditional garnish for the Pimm's Cup cocktail, and candied or raw flowers are used to decorate desserts.  The plants' leaves have a subtle cucumber taste which is used in salads too.

This annual plant seeds itself freely and since Kepa gave us the original plant we have them popping up all over the garden. You'll need to bend down to see the amazing color of the flowers though, as they point downwards.

Latin name: Borago officinalis ("bor-AH-go o-fish-ee-NAL-iss")
Common name: Borage (rhymes with "porridge"), Starflower
Originally from: Syria, but naturalized throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa, and South America
Blooms: Beautiful blue flowers fade to pink.
Light: Full sun, part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: A clump here and there along the steps and in the left bed. They tend to self-seed everywhere!

The whole plant
Traditionally Borage was cultivated for culinary and medicinal uses, although today commercial cultivation is mainly as an oilseed. The oil is the highest known plant-based source of gamma-linolenic acid.

Borage is also used as a companion plant for tomatoes, squash, strawberries and it deters tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. It's one of the best bee and wasp attracting plants, and even adds trace minerals to the soil and is a good addition the compost pile.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March update

View north: Before
Following an on site meeting with Mohammed Nuru and Sandra Zuniga of DPW the design for the SPUR project (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) has been approved.

As the landowners, DPW has veto power on all designs of course, which overrides any community input, and also the power to add or alter features. In this instance DPW was very pleased with the plans but has stated we must reduce the number of bio-retention cells (BRCs) to 3, and double their individual size. Their placement along the street is to be determined, but you can see before and after pictures of these features in the images accompanying this article.

View north: BRC locations
This results in 3 fewer parking spots on the street and as a result we're reducing the plantings in some areas to mitigate that.

Prior to that meeting we also met with Ken Kortcamp and Rachel Kraai from the PUC who recommended we add a bulb-out at the top of the street to prevent traffic cutting the corner and running into cars parked on the east side of the street. We added that feature to the plans too.

Lastly we met with our construction engineer, Mike Glynn, today. he has secured the steel beams for the project and is working on another project nearby, so we hope he can do his part at our new project while his machinery is in the area. We tentatively set an April 1st start date, as a joke!

View north: BRC plantings
We are getting firm quotes on the materials we need for Phase 1 of the project, such as boulders, trees, plants and so on.  Do you want to be involved? We need help! Please contact us right away if you're interested in being a part of this project.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Take that, snails

Psoralea pinnata
I weeded the steps thoroughly today and spread Sluggo around to kill the slugs and snails that have been eating the daffodil flowers to shreds. I also found almost a dozen snails hiding between the leaves of several Cordylines. I don't know whether to be relieved they don't eat Cordyline leaves, angry with the Cordylines for sheltering evil, or happy they're so easy to see on those leaves!

In other news the Psoralea pinnata is flowering - aka Kool Aid Bush. It's up by the bench, and the flowers actually smell like grape Kool Aid. How cool is that?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slugs and snails

Daffodils = snail fodder
Enemy Number 1 at P. Garden is snails. Followed closely by slugs.

They have munched a huge number of daffodil flowers this year (for some reason they love 'em!) as well as the seedlings I was growing for the garden at home. Grrrr!

If you see a snail or slug, the gardener's creed it to convert it to compost by crushing it underfoot.  I did this to three snails this morning, and guess what? I now feel really guilty.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pet profile: Cosmo

At last we have a new pet profile! Stalwart volunteer Josh's dog Cosmo takes the limelight this week. We love Cosmo - he is so soft and gentle. A little deaf, but I think that adds to the "adorability."

Name/nickname: Cosmo, 'Smo

Breed: English Springer Spaniel
Age: 13 years old this month
Owner: Andrew and Josh
Loves: Ice cream, steamed milk, almost all human food, laying on silk pillows, eating while laying on silk pillows, walks at the beach
Dislikes: Dexter the evil parrot, carrots, olives, being left alone
How long have you been visiting P Garden? Since about 5 months after the garden was started.
If you see us at the garden: Cosmo usually stays pretty close to the action, always ready to help finish any snacks and pose for photos. He doesn't like his owners to get too far from him, so he ambles around wherever they are working in the garden.
Bio: Cosmo was confiscated from a puppy mill in the east bay when he was 11 months old, and had a very brief stay with the Springer Rescue folks before going to Josh and Andrew's house, where he hit paydirt. We don't know anything about his early life, but it must have been pretty traumatic, so he's got issues (don't we all?), but he copes with them pretty well.
Cosmo knows every store on the hill that offers dog treats, and suggests that you patronize them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dog fence a GO!

The back slope - eek!
Today I had a meeting with Mohammed Nuru (Deputy Director of DPW) and Sandra Zuniga (DPW Community Liaison) and, happy day, Mohammed has approved the dog area fence and terracing of the back slope!

At long last we can begin this already-funded project. Yay!

Ron Lester of Iron Maverick will be doing the metal work for us as usual, and the end result will make the whole garden safer and more accessible for everyone.

Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Warm + overcast = perfect gardening weather!

Mulch Master Matt
We had a great volunteer day today - thanks to everyone who came out to help! Matt and I were joined by Iris, Francisca, Josh, Cosmo, Amata, Jo, Carlin, Leigh, Tanya and Nate.

We powered through a bunch of tasks and I only hope I gave all our determined volunteers all the help and attention  they deserved. though I was rushing around a bit!

Francisca mulches.
First off, Amata deadheaded the daffodils and moved the pile of branches up to the dog area - a long overdue job.

After that, she thoroughly weeded behind the bench and, joined by Matt and Francisca, mulched the area too. That spot is won't need to be touched for probably 6 months now - can't wait till the Clivias start flowering.

Nate and Leigh
eradicate Cannas.
Nate and Leigh took out ALL the Cannas by the wrong way sign. They have been infected by the Canna virus so sadly we had to throw them all out, which was a massive task.

Completing this task does make room for some lovely, xeric plants though - I am imagining Leucadendrons and Aloes and Agaves as that spot is so desperately dry.

Carlin chops Cannas
Tanya and Francisca ripped out loads of Nasturtiums in the surrounding beds, hopefully ending the evil reign of Nasturtium once and for all.

Carlin (who I keep wanting to call Curlin - this is a compliment coming from me, believe it or not) pruned the potato bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii) - she'd pruned the Bolivian Fuchsia (Fuchsia boliviana) last week too so clearly she has skills in that department! Later on she took all the Cannas that had been dug up and chopped them into the compost bin.  Despite the sad demise of those plants we will at least be able to use them to fertilize other plants.

Josh pots cacti
Josh potted up a great number of cacti that had been languishing under the loquat trees. I bet those poor plants were really grateful! It was such a relief to see them all lined up with their roots in dirt at last - they may be tough but there's only so much they can take. These cacti are getting ready for a new life on the SPUR project (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) down the street so they do need to get ready for some harsh conditions.

And Cosmo... well, Cosmo is a dog so he did all manner of doggy things. Watch out for some very cute pics of him coming soon on the blog.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Volunteer day this weekend!

"Safari Goldstrike"
March 5th is a volunteer day at Pennsylvania Garden from 10am to noon. I hope you can join us! There's lots to do and we need the help. I stole this quote from my dad's garden newsletter:
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing 'Oh how wonderful' and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out, and start their working lives
By grubbing weeds from garden paths with broken dinner knives.

Rudyard Kipling
So if that doesn't motivate you, what will? ;) We're going to be working on a  few projects this weekend, namely: Shearing lavender in the middle back bed. Potting up some lovely cacti. Shoring up the base of the steps with wood. Deadheading daffodils, weeding and mulching. Removing diseased cannas. You name it - there's stuff to do!

Neighborhood watch

This just in from Jim - please attend the meeting if you live in the neighborhood!


You are invited to attend the 200 Block Pennsylvania Ave Neighborhood Watch 2nd Meeting.
Monday, March 7th, 7 – 8pm
254 Pennsylvania Ave – Jim Wilkins’ Residence

Our recently formed neighborhood watch group is currently focused on the following priorities:

1. Closing 280 Exit curve onto Pennsylvania Ave.
2. Eliminating Auto Break-In’s on Pennsylvania Ave.

3. Reducing Domestic Disturbances on Pennsylvania Ave.
4. Lighting in Pennsylvania Gardens
5. Traffic Calming at 18th & Mariposa St. Intersections

If you are interested in any of the above items, have any other neighborhood safety concerns, or just want to participate in making our street more safe please join us.

Questions? Please email Jim Wilkins at wilkins.jim at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snow shovelling

Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi
(Lavender Scallops)
On Friday night we were supposed to get some very cold temperatures - below freezing. Yes, I can hear the snorts from those of you who spend the winter frozen solid! But our plants are not used to it, so I went out and covered a few delicate ones with branches and towels.

On Saturday, after an energetic few hours of snow shovelling this weekend (not! No snow for us) John came over with some gorgeous plants and I got to work potting them up or planting them. Aloes, Agaves, Lithodora, Aeoniums - lots of cool stuff.

I weeded an area on the cactus wall and planted one right away - an Aloe bainesii aka Aloe barberae. This is a tree Aloe - it will get big, but very, very slooooowly. The one John gave is is about 3' tall so already nice and big: I love it! He also brought us a nice big rooted branch of a Yucca we're not quite sure of the name on: either Y. elephantipes, gloriosa or maybe lacandonica?

Euphorbia lambii
in flower
Later on I was in Oakland and stopped by the CVS Pharmacy on Broadway. This place has an oddly interesting and cheaply priced selection of cacti and succulents - someone in the garden department speaks my language! Matt and I picked up two big Agaves for our patio for very little money, and one has pups: net result is that P. Garden will be getting an Agave "Sharkskin" soon, a type I have long admired.

On Sunday Matt and I went up to Sonoma and found a Yucca elephantipes "Silver Star" for sale at a nursery. We picked it up to replace the Yucca elephantipes "Jewel" that mysteriously died near the steps - hope this one proves to be a stronger plant!
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