Thursday, August 30, 2012

More documentation

Today I emailed off a package of 10 documents to the PUC for their approval before they will release funds for us to start the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden project. Emily spent a lot of time back and forth with our landscape Architect Andrea Alfonso to get many of these ready, and it was a big relief to mail them all off today. They were:
  1. Letter of support and analysis by Geotechnical Engineer (Reza Baradaran)
  2. Letter of support by Landscape Architect  (Andrea Alfonso)
  3. Final Layout Drawing by Landscape Architect (Andrea Alfonso)
  4. Letter of support from Structural Engineer (Bryce Neuman)
  5. Structural Drawing by Structural Engineer (Bryce Neuman)
  6. Letter of support from DPW (Director Mohammed Nuru) 
  7. PUC spreadsheet for 24 hour storm reduction/ Rain garden sizing calculator 
  8. Watershed diagram 
  9. Updated timeline and maintenance plan for the project
  10. SPUR (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) narrative and description

We're very grateful to Landscape Architect Andrea Alfonso,  Geotechnical Engineer Reza Baradaran, Structural Engineer Bryce Neuman and DPW Director Mohammed Nuru for their persistence on this project!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More tree work

Today I had a meeting with Friends of the Urban Forest on site to discuss the trees we need for the project. Heidi and Greg from FuF were amazed to see how the trees at Pennsylvania Garden have grown with little to no water. Heidi is going to help us source the trees we want, and Greg is going to help us organize the planting day. We need a lot of help from the community on that day - hope to see you out there to help us plant the trees!

Prune your Mock Oranges now

Before (left) and after.
On Sunday I pruned our lovely scented Mock Orange (Philadelphus "Belle Etoile") which is an annual task that needs to be done right around now in the Bay area.

Planted in August 2009, our Philadelphus was supposed to be a nice 5' tall shrub covered in scented white blooms, sitting by the bench and perfuming the air. In 2009 it was small, in 2010 it wasn't much bigger. In 2011 I kinda stopped caring, and in Spring this year our friend Corinne said she thought it would never be happy. Then....Bingo! It flowered beautifully, scentedly, and relentlessly. It's finally finished flowering and I am glad I waited for it to get it together!

The time to prune is after flowering but not too late into summer. The plant flowers on growth from the previous year, so if you start hacking at it in the fall or winter it won't have time to make new growth to flower on. No flowers for you!

The rule to remember for pruning them is "thirds." First, cut back all the stems that flowered leaving 1/3 of the length. Next, prune back 1/3 of the stems down to the ground.

Pick stems to cut right back that are deep in the heart of the shrub, all dense and tangled. Don't cut back new growth that had no flowers.

And voila! Good to go for another year.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A tale of two Cordylines

"I'll be back..."
Timber! The annual chopping down of the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is a ritual where one's manly prowess can be displayed and the results are dramatic. I was not feeling manly so Matt wielded the saw and the cardoon was down in no time flat - I barely had time to get a picture and my finger was in the way, but I had no time to retake it.

In the meantime, I watered everything that needed it deeply. A 10 second spray right in the dirt at the base of a plant that fills up it's water basin is better for the plant than an hour of overhead sprinkling in my experience.

I also planted some things we picked up yesterday.

We popped over to Flora Grubb Gardens and I am always on the lookout for a great Cordyline for the garden. They do really well and come in awesome colors. Or rather, they usually do really well, but the Cordyline "Sundance" I planted in the middle front bed back around Thanksgiving last year failed to thrive and is now officially dead. Hmph! What went wrong? I don't know, but it was a cheapo from Lowes and had a wobbly trunk - something  Cordyline are a bit prone to.

Renegade looking demure.
Anyway, back to FG. They had some really nice ones of course but the one that caught my eye was Cordyline "Renegade (Tana)" which has very dark, almost black leaves. Madame Grubb carries it in a 2 gallon and a 5 gallon size, both with the same label, both proclaiming it to be the grassy type of Cordyline. Cordylines come in two basic types: your tall, narrow palm-like one with a trunk, and your 3-4' high mound of grassy leaves. This is based on what hybrid of various Cordyline species went into it's makeup. C. australis hybrids are palm-like. C. banksii ones are grassy.

So, I wanted a palm-like type to go with my other two in the grouping I'd made. However Cordyline "Renegade (Tana)" is a cross between C. australis and C. banksii and wouldn't you know it, the larger size pots had a 1' tall trunk on 'em. So what's it gonna be? Trunk, or no trunk per the label? I called in  a salesperson and she noted why I was confused. She called another salesperson and he said "short trunk" so I bought it. Short trunk better than no trunk, as they say.

Kiwi Dazzler (L) not
dazzling yet
While I had the local Cordyline expert in my grasp, I asked him if he could get what I really wanted - Cordyline "Kiwi Dazzler." It's green and pink striped, and palm-like. He said no, they're really hard to find... you never see them... too bad, so sad... so I wrinkled my nose, made my way to the register and paid $40 for my short trunked plant. Feh.

Next we went by Lowes to pick up some lumber for a non-garden related project. What is the first thing that catches my eye? A 1 gallon Cordyline "Kiwi Dazzler" for $6. Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit. As they say. That went in the cart along with a Kniphofia "Popsicle" - the Popsicle line of Kniphs is all about the creamy shades, and I think there are about 6-8 colors. Since this was Lowes it was incorrectly labelled as an annual, and no specific hybrid given but a leftover yellow to cream flower tells me it's probably "Pineapple Popsicle."

Pineapple Popsicle? Maybe.
So to bring this saga to a close, I planted the Kniphofia in the left bed, the Cordyline "Renegade (Tana)" in the middle back bed, and the Cordyline "Kiwi Dazzler"where the "Sundance" used to be, very well staked as unfortunately it's another wobbly specimen.

Matt potted up some grasses, I weeded, all sorts of things got trimmed and pruned and a good time was had by all.

The end.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


DPW, who owns the land where our project is situated, wants to plant trees all along the west side of the street. Today I talked to Doug at Friends of the Urban Forest again about what we hope to accomplish.

We have selected 5 species of trees for the project in anticipation of a November planting date. We hope to have the following:

Acacia baileyana "purpurea"
Agonis flexuosa "After Dark"
Melaleuca linariifolia
Olea eurpoaea
Sophora secundiflora

With a bit of luck FUF can get hold of these for us. They were all chosen  for the following reasons:

a) Not too tall - there are power lines overhead
b) Does well in relatively hot and dry conditions with very fast-draining soil (our soil infiltration test showed a very high drainage rate)
c) Evergreen ideally
d) Low litter from fruit, flowers etc as cars will be parked underneath, and agaves planted nearby which collect litter and make them look funky.
e) Has a canopy that people can walk under with minimal pruning, as a sidewalk will run alongside them.
f) The north end of the street gets a bit of evening wind from 17th street: 3-4 trees might be in a windy spot some of the time

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lavender Haircut

I've been eyeing the lavender hedge for a few weeks now, and decided today was a good day to put the other chores aside and give the hedge a haircut. The photo shows the new growth coming in (red circle) and the old growth (blue circle) above. Catching the lavender at the right stage, when the old growth is still high enough above the new growth, is key. With this mismatch in heights you can just shear off the top layer, letting the new growth continue on through.

In between shearing the lavender I also watered some of the newer plants along with the swath of Calandrinia along the off-ramp edge. Sometime soon we'll need to make a concentrated push to clean up the left bed, but not today!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Snippety snip!

Today I watered the new plants, and as usual between moving the sprinkler I tidied up.

I deadheaded several Achilleas along the steps. This is a quick job - about 30 second per plant. You can see from the photo the before and after - you just cut back each finished flower stem to below the mound of leaves at the bottom of the plant. They should produce new flowers as a result.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spiky issue

Today while watering I took a look at the oddly bent over Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly Pear) by the information kiosk. Looks like it either got too heavy to hold itself up, or someone was harvesting fruit off it - anyway, a large part of it is broken.

I sawed off a dozen pads and put them in the compost bin - theoretically they should compos down nicely. If not, they'll be a painful annoyance! Lots more to saw off - if I do a few every couple days it should be done in no time. Hope the leather gloves hold up to the spines!

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's never really quick

Plectranthus top left,
Euphorbia bottom right
You think you're going to go to the garden and quickly water what needs to be watered, and do a quick tidy. No chance! Hours later you look at the time and... eek!

Today I watered several areas, and planted the following, one of each:

Teucrium betonicum (Madeira germander) - anything from Madeira is a freind of mine. Emily picked this out.
Phormium "Yellow Wave" - from John.
Euphorbia "Blackbird" - in the same spot where one failed before. Is this wise? We shall see.
Plectranthus parviflorus "Sapphire Dream" - A variegated one.The other Plectranthus we have, P. argenteus, does really well for us. Fingers crossed here!

Phormium spilling over
the old stump
These all went in the area of the left bed that was cleared of lupines and Brugmansia yesterday. Yes, it's more watering, but they won't live in their pots forever, so in they went!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Volunteer whackday

Jackie and Amaryllis
- perfect match!
Today's volunteer workday involved some serious plant whacking.  The Lupinus arboreus in the left bed was exhibiting the same poor behavior as the Brugmansia in the same bed. That is: pretending to die off during summer drought so it can come back in the winter when it rains. However, that trick won't work with me! We don't want plants looking half dead for most of the year. It's an admirable trait in the wild, but since we don't intend to water the plants and dislike a scruffy look, they had to go.

I removed the Lupinus, Nate cut down the Brugmansia and distributed cuttings to other volunteers who have gardens that can accommodate them better. I cut back the Watsonias in that bed while Carl cut back the Watsonias in the brights bed.

Emily and Debbie
While that was happening, Emily, Jackie and Debbie weeded out a ton of Oenothera from the left bed, where it had gone weedy and scraggly after flowering and no doubt seeding everywhere (groan!)

Matt busied himself cutting back the two Salvias at in the dog area that need summer trimming. Salvia gesneriiflora "Tequila" and the unknown pinkish variety next to it got cut by half so they don't get too crazy next year.

After that he rescued several Bromeliads from the base of those plants were they were being overshadowed, and moved them to the front of the brights bed where they can shine.

Before and after left bed
Carlin pulled out loads of spent corn marigolds from the edge of the garden, to allow the Calandrinias there to get some light and grow better. Tanya deftly pulled loads of grass out from the back of the middle back bed, right before they seeded everywhere, and weeded pathways in general.

We watered a bunch of areas, and I put in two Athanasia pinnata in the left bed, next to the one we already have. It's a nice and unusual plant, but I think a grouping of three together will give a stronger look.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I weed so you don't have to... Volunteer Workday Saturday!

long roots of the infamous
Just a quick reminder that tomorrow, as it is the first Saturday of the month, it is our garden workday! Everyone is invited to come and participate in some gardening from 10-12. There is always plenty of do, but it seems like we are forever weeding on workdays. Especially the dog area! To try and combat this, I have been weeding almost every day this week. This may be only visible to the trained eye (!) but I know it will lessen the weeding load for our volunteers, and we can focus more on teaching a variety of gardening skills.
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