Sunday, June 30, 2013

False alarm

Sad Ficus
This morning Matt and I were up early to connect the hose from Fregosi Paints to water the trees at PRG.

We went about our business while the trees got water on this very hot weekend, then came back to weed and deadhead the plants on the street. Noticed a Ficus benjamina (house plant) that's been planted at PRG, randomly enough - it might not survive the transition from indoor plant to outdoor plant in this heatwave, but good luck...

Happy cactus
I also noticed that some of the cacti down there are sprouting new tips - a good sign! Some of the cacti took the transition poorly, but many are doing well, just as we'd helped. This one came from a giant cactus in the Haight that John helped Matt and I dismantle and relocate way back in July 2010 - a really tough, prickly, painful job but worth it in the end.

Later on, as I was about to go switch off the water, Alert Neighbor Adolfo sent me an email about a man at the garden, apparently tidying up. naturally I was up there in a matter of minutes and say Keyvan (hope I spelled that right!) weeding. He's a keen local gardener so of course I was delighted to show him what needs to be weeded and give him a pair of pruners. And some cuttings :)

Tough Santolina
On the way back down to PRG I decided to water as many of the plants as possible, and while doing that I noticed butterflies at the garden. A cabbage white, a swallowtail and then one I've never seen; all silvery blue-gray with a bight orange spot at the base of each wing. Google says it's a Gray Hairstreak and fairly common, but very pretty nonetheless. I also noticed that the Santolinas that someone apparently stood on, or sat on, are rejuvenating from the base. Hurrah for tough old Santolinas :)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Volunteer Workday Next Saturday

A happy group of volunteers
with a fluffy dog too!
Next week is the 4th of July holiday and if you are in town you are invited to come to our monthly volunteer workday! As usual it's on the first Saturday of the month from 10-12 and we meet at Pennsylvania Garden by the bench. All of the necessary tools and training are provided, with cold drinks afterwards. Annie and I will be there and it is always a lot of fun.

We get stuff done
During the June volunteer day we had a great group of co-workers from The Presidio Group that chose to spend their volunteer time with us, and we chronicled their amazing work in the workday post. They sent over some great photos so I've included them in this post. Come to the next workday and you can  make the front page of the blog too.

Hope to see you all at the workday next Saturday and be sure to visit the gardens and enjoy this heat wave

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A little bit of work goes a long way

Santolina going for broke in yellow
and the dry grass Nasella winding down 
Both gardens are looking great, with some plants like the Santolina Annie just profiled going like crazy for Summer, while other plants like the Nassella tenuissima, a grass, going into the dormant part of its cycle. It's a beautiful mix, exactly how we like it!

Annie is away on vacation so I watered the trees, and overall had a lovely time talking with neighbors and doing chores around both gardens. Right as I was getting started with the trees, two of my neighbors came by that were using the route down along PRG to get a coffee from Front and walk their dog - one of my favorite activities (!) - and we chatted while I setup everything.

Nate powering the sound system by bike
On Thursday we were invited to the SF Parks Alliance Love Your Parks Party, where Ryan and I met up with Nate. Nate agreed to take a turn on the bicycle powering the speakers, and garden on Saturday (Ryan agreed to neither). So while waiting for Nate I updated our kiosk with new flyers and doggie bags, weeded the beds by the benches, cut back Centranthus by the arch and transplanted a Knautia macedonia out from under a Ceanothus to the middle back bed by the Plectranthus. I've had the Knautia in other gardens and it goes like crazy with flowers for most of the year, but we haven't quite found a place it enjoys at PSG yet. This new spot was still very wet from the brief run of automatic sprinklers on Friday night, so I know it will get more water in the new location and by not being buried under a Ceanothus more sunlight, so maybe third times the charm?
Hard to imagine this was full of weeds!

Meanwhile Debbie and Nels were taking a walk throughout the garden checking out plants that may work well in their garden and we chatted about a few lovely candidates, including the Agave attenuata, they are posing with in their photo. I made sure to point them to the great plant profiles that Annie writes for information, and they were glad to have the garden and our website as a resource. Yay!

Savvy gardeners Nels & Debbie
Once Nate arrived at the garden we started by cleaning up the cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, removing all the dead leaves still attached to the plant and the large dead ones that had already fallen. We did crinkle the leaves to make a 'mulch' of sorts, which looks more like 'mulch' then dead branches fortunately -  so we'll see how that works out in a few weeks! After some more weeding it was time to stop the water at PRG, so we went down to weed a bit more and pickup all the trash... there is always so much trash! I hand watered a few plants that are having a hard time making it (a few Stachys and Convulvus) which out of 700 plants is only a small handful, so I'm grateful, and we packed up the hose and headed out to a late lunch.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Plant profile: Santolina (Lavender Cotton)

S. chamaecyparissus
Latin name: Santolina ("sant-oh-LEE-nah")
Common name: Lavender Cotton, Holy Herb, Ground Cypress
Originally from: the Mediterranean
Blooms: From early spring through summer, hundreds of cream to bright yellow balls appear on thin stems above the plant.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed unless very dry.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 1-2' high and wide.
USDA Zones: 5-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have a couple on the steps, and one in the brights bed. The real stars are the many groupings of these at PRG down the street.

S . rosmarinifolia

Santolina was a genus first mentioned in 1550, and became all the rage during the Elizabethan era in their formal knot gardens. They're still a great plant for edging your herb gardens.

I didn't think too hard about for a while, but I've come to appreciate them for their truly drought tolerant nature, silvery foliage, compact form and cute little sulphur-yellow flowers. Their foliage also smells great.

Holy Herb is one of the common names for this plant, derived from sanctum linum, or holy flax - an old name for the plant.  In the past it was used to cure round worm in Scotland, thanks probably to the alkaloids it contains.  Another common name is Ground Cypress, from the species S. chamaecyparissus, from the Greek chamai (ground) and kuparissos (cypress.)

S . rosmarinifolia
The first one we got was an S . rosmarinifolia -  aka S. virens (Green Santolina) which is very happy in the brights bed. We planted 8 more at PRG and I think it prefers things slightly less xeric than PRG so far. 

We got four S. chamaecyparissus var. nana (Dwarf Lavender Cotton) from Digging Dog in Mendocino, and they are planted on the steps area. The regular S. chamaecyparissus (Gray Lavender Cotton) is one we planted a ton of down at PRG and they look amazing so far.

S. chamaecyparissus "Lemon Queen" lives down on PRG in a group of 8. So far we have lost 3 and I think they need more water in that spot.

Lastly the two S. virens "Lemon Fizz" we have on the steps aren't doing quite as well - I think they need a tiny bit more water to look good.

Santolinas need little care - a quick shear when they're done flowering to tidy them up - perhaps a shear in very early spring if they are looking scraggly too. A great plant for your dry garden!

UPDATE June 2016:
What a tough, drought-proof plant! The  S. virens "Lemon Fizz" and S. chamaecyparissus "Lemon Queen" are less rugged, but so lovely - just pick a less arid spot for them.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Grassy weeds

Cotyledon orbiculata
var. oblonga
I like weeding as a rule. You pick a spot, clear out all the weeds, and generally there's a clear reward for your work. You can do it for 5 minutes - no need to commit to hours. You can sit down to do it. At the end you have a bucket of compost fixins' to add to the pile. It's all good!

One thing I dislike weeding out though is grass, when removing it from an ornamental grass, or grass-like plant. That's a pain.

Today I weeded the front of the middle back bed which has several grass-like plants infested with actual grass. URGHHH!!! Well not anymore.

I also did some weeding in the left bed and futzed with the compost a bit. Deadheaded all the Kniphofias down at PRG. It was a pottering around sort of day. Then the weather suddenly turned windy and overcast and that was my signal to leave.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Michael Coleman, you're not welcome at PG.

Alert neighbor took this pic...
This evening I got an email from an alert neighbor with a capital A that a man was hacking at the cacti at the front of PG right that moment. I threw on a coat and we jogged up to the garden to see a man doing just that, and he was pretty nasty when I confronted him.

He said he'd been poked by a cactus when he went by, but was wearing new heavy gardening gloves and carrying a hook knife... not the sort of thing you just happen to have on you when you're out for an evening's perambulation. I'd already removed all the spines from the tips of the Agave by the arch anyway... so...? Getting ready to steal the nopales from the prickly pear if you ask me. Just like the guy a couple weeks ago.

Since he was so unpleasant, I called 911 and Matt and I followed him as he lumbered off. Three cop cars caught up with him on 18th St after a brisk walking "chase" and they handcuffed him and took a statement from me. We'll be going down to 400 McAllister to get a stay away order, but if you see one Michael Coleman at the garden feel free to call 911, or indeed anyone vandalizing or stealing from the garden. Yes indeed friends, it is against the law to destroy plants in a public place.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Plant profile: Malacothamnus fremontii (Frémont's Bushmallow)

Latin name: Malacothamnus fremontii ("mala-coth-AM-nus free-MONT-ee-eye")
Common name: Frémont's Bushmallow
Originally from: California
Blooms: From May to July it's covered in pretty pinkish-lavender flowers.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent, but tolerates clay.
Height x width: up to 7'x7'
USDA Zones: 8b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have 7 of these at PRG down the street.

Endemic to California, I first took note of this shrub when contractors came in and mowed one down on the empty lot on Texas street near our house. That plant had been living in poor, shallow dirt for years with nothing but rain to keep it going - impressive. When they chopped it down, I thought "oh well - sad to see it go." But no. It popped right back up. A light bulb lit up in my head!

Native to the woodlands and chaparral of California, it has silvery, felty leaves and a nice upright shape. It's a fast grower too hitting 4' in the first year.  The species was named for John C. Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), a Republican from Georgia with a fondness for bushwhacking who is rather scathingly described as follows:

"Historians portray Frémont as controversial, impetuous, and contradictory. Some scholars regard him as a military hero of significant accomplishment, while others view him as a failure who repeatedly defeated his own best purposes. The keys to Frémont's character and personality may lie in his being born out of wedlock, ambitious drive for success, self-justification, and passive-aggressive behavior."

Bummer. Despite his many alleged character flaws he chummed up with the very interesting Kit Carson and they took off on expeditions in a Westerly direction, checking out the Oregon Trail, the Sierra Nevadas and Lake Tahoe among other sights.

Along the way he named a couple dozen plants after himself, not to mention dozens of cities, towns, counties mountains and rivers. All a bit egotistical if you ask me, but hey - if I had ridden a horse across the Sierra Nevadas while being shot at by native Americans I'd probably be feeling pretty smug too.

Anyway, just like Mr Frémont this shrub is tough as nails, and I recommend it for your sunny, dry patch of land that needs something shapely.  Give it a good hard prune in late autumn or early spring to keep it growing in a nice form, and it'll flower from April through October.

UPDATE: we have two left of the original seven, and they look fantastic. Not sure why some died - possibly not enough sun or lack of water in those particular spots.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Another outstanding volunteer day

Today we had a bunch of volunteers from The Presidio Group who, as it turns out, are a hard working bunch! With their help, and that of several other marvelous volunteers, we completed a number of tasks - some that have been lingering for way, way too long.

First we got not one but two compost heaps turned over by a pair of enthusiastic volunteers.

Next a whole gang went up to the dog area with Emily and weeded it clean, then buried a long section of carpet under the wood chips as weed suppressant. They also sorted through a pile of twigs to prepare for twig border manufacture at some later date.

Matt led a group down at the arch. He removed an area of bricks that were being pushed up by a root, and had created a tripping hazard. He flattened it and redid the brickwork, while his team pruned back the Dipogon lignosus (Cape Sweet Pea) on the arch, prevented it spreading into nearby beds, and cut back the Salvia leucantha there too.

After that was done he took his team into the storm drain area - a land populated with dangerous things (cacti) that have been left in post there for Much Too Long. They removed all the cacti - risking life and limb I might add - and sorted them into three groups: Store in the dog area for later, throw on the compost pile and plant now.

In the meantime, I took a team to the bottom of the steps and we eradicated all the ivy (evil, and something we've battled in the spot since May 2009) and Aptenia cordifolia (useful groundcover planted in January 2011 and since then gone berserk) from a good-sized area, and cut back all the Chasmanthe that are done flowering. When the area was cleared, we were ready to plant some new stuff - always fun.

We moved an Agave americana and some Aloe nobilis to better sites, and added an Aloe cameronii (Red Aloe), an Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus) from the storm drain and a gorgeous Agave salmiana "Butterfingers" bought for PG recently. Huge improvement!

Patrick weeded and swept the entrances and Keyvan weeded the pathways very carefully, Anna separated out a huge clump of the bromeliad Fascicularia pitcairnifolia recently donated by Josh into separate plants ready for planting, and at the end of the volunteer day the whole garden was looking really great. Go check it out!

Who did all this work? Nate, Patrick, Anna, Vitalia, Tom, Tony, Lilly, Nora, Julianna, Keyvan, Annie B., Victor, Susie, Carrie, Susan B., William, Susan S., and Anthony. Please take a bow!

Thanks to all the volunteers and to The Presidio Group for encouraging volunteer activities among their staff: what a productive, sunny day it was :)
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