Friday, November 5, 2021

Plant Profile: Furcraea selloa marginata (Wild Sisal)

Latin name: Furcraea selloa marginata ("fur-KRAY-ah sell-OH-ah marj-in-AH-tah") 
Common name: Wild Sisal, Variegated False Agave

Originally from: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Blooms: Monocarpic with 20 foot tall flower stalks in spring.
Light: Full sun to part sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 10' x 10'
Zones: 9b - 11
Where to find in P. Garden: Several are planted at PRG, in the left bed

It's an agave on a stick, basically. By that I mean it grows a trunk, which will be quite epic, if you have the patience - stick around for a couple decades to see what happens! If you can't wait that long see the photo at left (not our plant. Or greenhouse) - quite impressive, right?

Unless you walk near it, or fall in it: those leaves are lined with hooked spines, and the effect will likely not be impressive so much as painful. Perfect for a plant that has to survive on the street, to be fair.

Similar to an agave it's monocarpic, meaning it flowers and then dies. The flowers are green, and held on a 20' tall flower spike which will be ultra cool. After that, bulbils (mini plants) are produced along the flower stem, which in the wild would fall on the ground and root. No fiddling around with seeds here! This plant also creates pups at the base (which is why we have quite a few plants.)

As the common name Wild Sisal suggests, the fibers extracted from the leaves of Furcraeas can be used to make twine, rope, cloth, tapestries, mats, hammocks and sacks. However, real sisal is made from Agave sisalana. They just look pretty similar... hence the name confusion.

Another use for Furcraeas is saponins - those bitter tasting organic chemicals that are foamy and used for making soap.

This plant was thought to have come from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, though no current specimens have been found growing in the wild in Central America, so it's a bit of a mystery.  It certainly has the glossy-leaved tropical look to it, and with very low water requirements is a great choice for SF's water deprived gardener looking for a jungly effect.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Plant Profile: Perovskia atriplicifolia aka Salvia yangii (Russian Sage)

Latin name: Salvia yangii  ("SAL-vee-ah YANG-ee-eye")
Previously known as:
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Common name: Russian Sage
Originally from: southwestern and central Asia.
Purple flowers from summer to fall.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4'x4'
Zones: 5-9
Where to find in P. Garden: We have several at PRG

Here's a handsome plant. Tall, upright, with aromatic gray-green leaves and violet-blue flowers on delicate spires, it brings a misty purple element to the garden. At the end of the year we cut it to the base, and forget about it until early summer when it bounces back suddenly and puts on a show.

Since 2017 it's been listed with the genus Salvia, but before that we knew it as a Perovskia after the Russian General-adjutant Count Vasily Alekseevich Perovski (left; 1794 - c. 1857) The common name, Russian Sage, makes remembering the Salvia part easier though, and the species part o the name means "with leaves resembling salt-bush."

In 1839 General Perovski led an invasion of the Khanate of Khiva  to free Russian slaves. His expeditionary force consisted of 5,200 infantry and 10,000 camels. So you could see his name is apt for a smart looking, upright and drought tolerant plant.

General Perovski's left forefinger was lost in the Battle of Borodino in 1812 during Napoleon's French invasion of Russia. He was never able to find the missing digit, and it was replaced with gold fillet. If one wanted to make a further comparison with the Russian Sage, one might find something in the need to cut this plant back to the base each year. Perhaps that's a stretch though.

It is native to the steppes and hills of southwestern and central Asia, and does well in a wide range of climate and soil conditions - we find it very drought tolerant. Several cultivars have been developed too, with different leaf shapes and overall heights.

Not strictly ornamental, Wikipedia says "The species has a long history of use in traditional medicine in its native range, where it is employed as a treatment for a variety of ailments. This has led to the investigation of its phytochemistry. Its flowers can be eaten in salads or crushed for dyemaking, and the plant has been considered for potential use in the phytoremediation of contaminated soil."

 We never water ours - I bet if we did it would be even nice. Give it a try in your garden!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

New donations - big impact!

A couple weeks ago we got an email from lovely Susan on Potrero Hill. She had bought some Agave attenuata babies from us years ago, at a plant sale, and they had grown. A lot. In fact, she was ready to have some of her garden space back, so she asked if we could come and repatriate her Agaves to their native lands at PSG.

As we have done this sort of thing before, Matt and I looked at her photos for a split second and then said yes. We drove over with the tools needed and proceeded to remove 5 LARGE plants, and also took home some Aloe maculatas for the garden too.

We got them planted a week ago down at PRG, next to the solo Agave attenuata that we got from John that has been there for a couple years. And can we say they look fabulous? Yes, they do. We need to go back and get one last one from Susan, but meanwhile please stop by and enjoy this gorgeous contribution she has made to our fair city.

In other news, our friend Mat from Farallon Gardens donated a slew of Agave franzosinii, Agave mapisaga, Aloe cameronii and three interesting Erythrina crista-galli plants - a small tree. We're super excited to plant all these - he knows just what we like!

Come on down to the volunteer workday this Saturday to see the newness!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Volunteer day happened and no post?!

The May volunteer day was great - I didn't post about it because the next day our home was burgled and a lot of things stolen. It threw us for a loop, but we are OK.

However, lots got done at the volunteer day so here's a belated post and thank you to everyone who helped! 

First of all Aditi came out to visit which made me very happy. She brought her lovely fluffy pup Coco and we enjoyed a good catch up :)

Next thing that happened was Bill set about cleaning up the lower path. And when Bill sets about something, watch out - that path got cleaned the heck up! Some days I think I would like to clone Bill, though I obviously haven't mentioned this to him because he would think I was literally insane. Don't tell him I said that, OK?

New volunteer Ruth came and showed total spirit in not only attacking the Echium pathway (which went from impassable to impressive) but also in volunteering to help Aditi with some social media plans for PG. Thank you both so much for helping - it's too much for just me! 

As you can see from this pic she is totally up for things - I thought a fun pic would be her jumping for joy after fixing the path and she didn't laugh at me. Good sign!

The tool chest got broken into again - always in a new place - but nothing stolen. So Chris good-naturedly went and got his drill and fixed it. Again. 

I'm pretty sure Chris has had enough of this task, but I hereby declare that if I am ever hit by a bus he can take over decision-making for the tool chest completely and do with it as he pleases, up to and including setting it on fire.

Matt watered the new Cussonias, I weeded a bunch. And lastly John turned the compost, and removed some completed compost and gave it to a hungry tree Aloe. He makes light of this work, but how often do you see me doing it? Answer: never. So I really appreciate that he does it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloiampelos (Aloe) striatula

Latin name: Aloiampelos striatula ("al-oy-am-PEL-oss stree-ah-TOO-lah")
Common name: Hardy Aloe
Originally from: south of the Karoo region of South Africa
Blooms: brilliant yellow inflorescence rises above the foliage typically in late spring into summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 6' x 6' and bigger
Zones: 8a to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: The middle front and middle back beds have examples of this great Aloe (Aloiampelos!)

Aloes come in all shapes and sizes, from little grass-like thingies, all the way up to tree sized beasts. This particular one makes a nice shrub and has clear yellow flowers in late spring, making it a very useful plant to have around.

This particular one used to be called Aloe striatula, but around 2017 the botanists of the world, who like to complicate things (job security?) decided it should be moved into the Aloiampelos genus (combination of 'Aloe' and 'ampelos'=vine or creeper) to go with other climbing aloes. I haven't noticed that climbing trait in this plant, nor did anyone notify me of this change (haha!) so you will see it referred to as Aloe striatula all through this blog.

The plant's Latin species name "striatula" means "little stripes" referring to the thin dark-green stripes that can be seen on the plant's leaf sheaths. Don't mistake it for the similarly named Aloe striata ("coral aloe") though - that's a very different plant.

Aloiampelos striatula naturally occurs in the mountains of the Karoo region of South Africa, between the towns of Graaf-reinet and Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, extending into the Free State and Lesotho. 

It will tolerate a wide range of conditions, and is even known commonly as the "hardy aloe". It will tolerate much colder temperatures than most Aloes and relatives, including frost and even some light snow, but it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. In the Eastern Cape it is often planted along the boundaries of kraals (an animal enclosure), as it naturally forms a well-shaped and hardy hedge. Like other climbing Aloes, it can easily be propagated by cuttings as well as by seed. 

The one we were given originally (left) was an extremely pot-bound, stressed little plant that grew quickly to well over 6' wide; since then I've made lots of cuttings and put them in other areas of the garden

Monday, April 26, 2021

Plant Profile: Agave parryi var. truncata (Artichoke Agave)

Latin name:
Agave parryi var. truncata ("uh-GAH-vay PAR-ee-eye var trun-KA-tah")
Common name: Artichoke Agave
Originally from: From Durango to Zacatecas in Mexico
Blooms: Once, after 10-20 years, a flower spike rises 10 to 20 feet bearing orange buds that open yellow. 
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 3'x3'
Zones: 6-9
Where to find in P. Garden: We have lots all over PG and PRG

This gorgeous Agave is like a huge, blue-gray rosette of spiky, symmetrical wonder. The first one we got came from John and since then we have added to the collection with many more either through collecting them or via pups, which this Agave produces all the time (yay!)

Agave parryi has one of the most extensive ranges of any Agave in the wild, and it has several varieties in various areas. Extending from central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, this species runs all the way south to Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Mexico. It grows on rocky open slopes in grassland, oak woodland, pine and oak forests and Arizona chaparral at elevations from 3000 to 7500 ft.

The variety we have, truncata, is from the southern range of A. parryi, and as a result is more cold sensitive - hardy to around 15° F. Other recognized varieties of A. parryi include A. parryi var. parryi (Parry's agave), A. parryi var. couesii (Coues agave), and A. parryi var. huachucensis (Huachuca agave). These all have longer, slimmer leaves than truncata. I'm not saying truncata is better, but... well, I kinda am.

Another great thing about this Agave species is that it's used to make mezcal (tequila's smokier, more Byronic cousin). Of the 270 species in the Agave genus, 40 to 50 can be used for mezcal production (per Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM) regulations). If you find a bottle made from Agave parryi, let me know!

Monday, April 19, 2021

More garden cleanup happening

Last weekend, we had Tomas and team out to finish up the weeding at PRG and also clean up the Triangle Garden above PG. Things are looking pretty good right now.

Matt and I visited to move some Yucca rostratas that were in the path of PG&E trenching (watch out for that) and to plant some Agave parryi var. truncatas and some Yucca guatemalensis at PRG. We came across Josh weeding away in the sun, and that was nice. We all set about cleaning up the front by the kiosk and it looks alright now - see the before and after pic, left.

I also took some photos of Agaves getting ready to flower at PG. Some of the big ones are going to go for it this year! They are, clockwise from top left, Agave tequilana "Sunrise", Agave parryi truncata, Agave weberi, and Agave weberi "Reiner's Selection"

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Plant Profile: Cistus x skanbergii (Pink Rockrose)

Latin name: Cistus x skanbergii ("SISS-tuss x skan-BERG-ee-eye")
Common name: Pink Rockrose
Originally from: A natural hybrid of C. monoseliensis and C. parviflorus that happens where two species overlap in Greece and Sicily.
Blooms: Pale pink flowers 1" across blanket the plant in spring and summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 2-3' x 4-5'
Zones: 9-11
Where to find in P. Garden: One in the middle front bed at PG

This plant is an unassuming little star. A tidy, low-growing sun and heat-loving evergreen shrub with soft gray-green foliage. In spring it's covered in delicate papery pink flowers with a gold center. Tolerates drought, poor soil, and total neglect, deer don't like it, and  it can handle seaside conditions too. I expect it would even tidy your garden shed for you if you asked nicely.

You can shear it back in late summer for a fall rebloom and enjoy this little cutie in your rock garden, along gravel paths, on banks, slopes and anywhere too dry for the average plant. It's a great groundcover and won't give you any trouble.

This plant was originally described as a species by Italian botanist Michele Lojacono Pojero (1853-1919) but it is now considered to be a natural hybrid between Cistus monspeliensis and C. parviflorus that originates where the two species overlap in Greece and Sicily. 

The name Cistus is from the Greek word 'kistos' which was the name originally used to describe the plant in ancient Greece. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Multi-agency work at PRG coming up

Today at 7.30am Matt and I had a meeting with 7 representatives from Caltrain, PG&E, BBII, and JPB (two construction companies) that are working on installing the low-voltage direct current (DC) third rail system at The PS-1 site (right next to PRG.)

They had informed me that they would need to dig up parts of the garden to add trenching for power, and naturally after many years of inter-agency fusterclucks at the garden resulting in huge damage and even obliteration of certain sections with zero warning, it made me nervous.

However, the scope of this part of the project is smaller - and involves moving a few plants and taking down one large Malva shrub in a two week time frame.

Crisis averted so far...

Above is a picture of Agaves damaged by a homeless person's fire last week at PRG. Sigh.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Yellow flowers at PG

Quick puzzle for you: name these plants and find the nasty weed among them! Send your answers to me on the back of a crisp $100 bill and I will gleefully buy even more plants in your name, whether you win or not!

(Answers are below - no cheating)


Top row, left to right: Aeonium sp, Calendula officinalis, Oxalis pes-caprae (Sourgrass)

Bottom row: Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii, Euphrnia charcias, Cytisus scoparius (Scotch Broom)

Which one is the invasive weed? Oxalis AND Scotch Broom! Unless you planted the latter on purpose...

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Rare butterfly sighted

Today Matt and I went to PG and PRG to plant some plants, look at the work done by Tomas and his crew at PRG yesterday, and yes, weed some weeds.

Starting at PRG we uncovered some Agave "Sharkskin" that were being engulfed by Artemisias. You can see the problem in the before and after shot, left.  Agaves don't like to be damp and shaded, and will rot if nearby plants grow over them, so keeping them weeded is important.

After that we planted three gorgeous specimens of Agave ocahui - a lovely donation from Emily who lives on the peninsula. Thanks Emily! Hopefully these three will turn into nice 2' wide plants along the pathway. 

The name "ocahui" was the name was used by the indigenous Sonoran Desert population for "fiber" and "cordage" because the leaf fibers of this Agave were used to make rope. Another common name is Amolillo - a reference to the tradition of making soap from the leaves.

After that, we put in five small Agave "Blue Flame" to go with the four larger ones already in place.  This is a nice, soft, medium-sized agave that pups a lot, so there will be more to come. Always good - we often try to pick Agaves that produce lots of offsets so we will have more in the future.

Lastly we planted two very small Dracaena draco plants. This is the gorgeous and rare Dragon Tree, and we have one at PRG already.  They are painfully slow growing though, and will get to tree size probably after Matt and I are too old to enjoy them. Consider it our gift to future Potrero Hill!

After all that we headed up to PG and took photos and just enjoyed the garden. It's lovely right now - and you might get to see something I saw today, the rare pipevine swallowtail, Battus philen. This stunning black and blue butterfly only lives for a few weeks and only eats California pipevine - you can read more about them, and one man's efforts to help them, here. Why it was at the garden, I don't know, but I really appreciated seeing it. Sorry the photo is so bad!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Weeds demolished!

The weekend's volunteer day was awesome - an entire compost bin of weeds was removed from the garden by Matt, Chris, Josh, Bill and Jenna

In addition to that, two paper bags of weeds were left for pickup by the city. And a couple big tubs full also got composted (i.e. left in a heap to compost down) hidden in the middle of a bed. That's a lot of weeds.

Not to say there aren't a few left over... and by a few I mean a lot. We need help! Happily, we had a crew working down at PRG too, and Tomas and his men weeded about 1/3 of that garden very thoroughly. More on that later.

That said, the gardens are looking very lush right now - flowers galore (Echiums, Aeoniums, Salvias, California poppies, Rockroses, Strelitzias, and more) and everything is growing as fast as it can.

Pre-pandemic we had lots of company VTO days when groups of employees would help weed and it made a huge impact. Right now, in the absence of VTO days, we could use a volunteer workday every week for a month to get things under control.

So, if you've been thinking about coming to help out please do join us. We meet on the first Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm and we provide gloves, tools, and water. 

All you have to do is be like Bill (left)!

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