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)


Answers: 

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)!


Monday, March 15, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloe reitzii (Reitz's Aloe)

Latin name: Aloe reitzii var reitzii ("AL-oh RYEtz-ee-eye VAR RYEtz-ee-eye")
Common name: Reitz's Aloe
Originally from: A very small area on rocky slopes in the grasslands near the Belfast district of Mpumalanga in northern KwaZulu-Natal
Blooms: In summer a huge candelabra of red flowers emerges.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 3' tall x 3' wide
USDA Zones: 8 - 10
Where to find in P. Garden: In the middle front bed

Someone donated a little ceramic pot to the garden way back when we started. In the pot were several succulents, all stuck in place with glued-on gravel. Just the kind of desktop plant torture arrangement designed to be thrown away when the plants inevitably died.

I carefully picked off all the glue and gravel and separated out the plants. One of them was a small aloe of some kind. I potted it up and assumed it would die. To my surprise, it didn't. So it went in the middle front bed, looking very small and vulnerable.

I later found out it was an Aloe reitzii (Reitz's Aloe) - a stemless type of Aloe, that has a single rosette up to 3 feet tall, with long relatively broad silvery blue-green leaves with reddish teeth along the margins. A good medium-sized plant.

The great thing about this Aloe though is that it flowers in summer, unlike most Aloes which are winter flowering. And the flower is great - a huge branching candelabra of orangey-red down-curved flowers that lasts for ages. Every year ours gets more branches and a bigger flowering display.

The summer flowering habit makes it a useful plant in cold areas where the flowers of other Aloes often get frosted off in the winter.

This plant comes from a very small area on rocky slopes in the grasslands near the Belfast district of Mpumalanga in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The entire Belfast district is less than 14 square miles in size, and this Aloe occurs nowhere else.

There is also a winter-blooming form of this plant called Aloe reitzii var. vernalis that comes from The Vryheid District to the south. 

Aloe expert Dr Gilbert W. Reynolds made extensive field trips in search of Aloes in the 1930s-50s, covering more than 150,000 miles on the African continent, Madagascar, and beyond. A Mr. Francis William Reitz pointed out the Aloe to Reynolds, who named it after him in 1937 (or 1943, depending who you ask)

Mr. F. W. Reitz was either the then the South African Minister of Agriculture and nephew of the president of the Orange Free State, or said same president - they shared a name, and the accounts of this naming are vague.  One more reason botanists are rabid for Latin plant naming conventions and there's a lot of squabbling about which plant goes where I guess!

Reitz's Aloe is not difficult to cultivate in the garden or in a container - ours gets full sun and no water. It tolerates both frost (down to 20F) and fire in its natural habitat, and is easily propagated from seed (if you can get them.) Seed grown plants can flower in 5-7 years. Our plant first flowered in about 2009, so now in 2021 it's about 17-19 years old.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Weeds are getting the upper hand

Last workday was a week ago, and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. Busy times! But as usual it was a great day to be outside, sunny and warm, and we got a lot done.

Chris and I tackled weeds at the top of PG, clearing out around the lovely Agaves in the top bed (and Chris got stabbed in the head but hopefully he's gonna make it...)

John turned the compost. Thank goodness for John, otherwise we'd never have any compost. Then he's basically a triple threat in garden terms (he can also move rocks around, so he's a real MVP)

Bill weeded the street side of the bed behind the wrong way sign. The place where the oxalis weed has been running rampant. He pulled out armfuls of it.

And Matt fixed the tool chest after it was broken into - again... :( When will we get tired of that? Stay tuned! At least nobody steals anything from there anymore... because we leave it unlocked.

Today, Matt and I went back and weeded around the recently planted Aloes and Agaves on the lower path. Poor plants - being covered in weeds will rot them out pretty quickly. I hope we uncovered them in time! 

You can see from the before and after photo that the weeds were really crazy. We got that task done right before the rain came on. Phew!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The mystery of the lost certificate

We had a lovely warm and sunny volunteer day on Saturday, and  welcomed some super volunteers who worked with gusto. Ahhh - always so satisfying!

Matt and Bill took the truck down to PRG and moved 5 smallish boulders up to PG to build edging around the Agave ovatifolias on the south end of the brights bed. They got smaller rocks we'd left at the top of the garden to place in between the big ones, and it all looks great.

I can't get enough of rock borders right now. So much so in fact that I am considering having some more big baskets of rocks delivered by Half Moon Bay Soil Farm. Watch out for that fun.

Meanwhile, Kunaal, Will and Leanne joined me in weeding the Agave bed behind the wrong way sign, and the front border. Oh boy are those weeds busy growing as fast as they can! We are going to need all hands on deck for weeding next month.

John set about turning the compost, a job which he claims to like. Yes, there is mindless enjoyment to be had in sweaty manual labor. I am glad John finds that task rewarding because I'm pretty sure my arms would disagree.

And the mystery of the lost certificate? Well, when we arrived at the garden we found a Clemson University degree certificate, framed and matted, left on top of the compost bins. Likely it got there thanks to some homeless person, but it was in good shape so I thought I'd see if I could reunite it with its owner.  

Her name is quite unusual, so thanks to some Googling and posting on NextDoor I was able to fire off Facebook, LinkedIn and email messages quite quickly, and a it turns out she now lives in North Carolina.

Happily I was able to mail the framed certificate back to her - and why not. I'm sure she worked hard to get it all those years ago!


Monday, January 25, 2021

OK, it's winter now


Today is so very windy, and we're due about an inch of rain tomorrow - cold rain, lashed at us with gusts up to 50mph! The winter so far has been warm and dry, so I'm glad Matt and I got our to the garden last weekend and... you guessed it! We planted some plants.

At the very front of PG at the sidewalk we had put in some Agave angustifolia in a slightly haphazard way. We decided to rearrange them, moving the plain green one to the top of the garden, weeding the area thoroughly, and placing the variegated agaves in a better design. we added two more small ones, as well as 5 Artemisia "Powis Castle" that I propagated last year. A few wood chips for mulch, et voila!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Planting continues

Today and yesterday Matt and I planted a slew of new plants at the gardens.

A total of 4 Aloe tomentosa went in at the bottom of the steps at PG. The biggest plant was one that was not doing well at PG years ago, and we swooped in and rescued it. We collected seed when it flowered, and the three smaller ones are the result. We will keep an eye on them to see how they do in this much shadier spot.

Similarly, a Yucca linearifolia from the steps had been rehabbed at home. It's replanted now, in much better condition. A really cool (but small) Yucca faxoniana went in the top bed, and an Echium gentianoides too.

We removed all the bearded iris that had stopped flowering for us, and I put them on NextDoor. Very shortly after a woman came to pick them up - good luck! In their place we planted six Leucophyta brownii, all around the Agave ovatifolias.

Yesterday we planted an Echium hybrid (Echium candicans x Echium pinninnata, a natural cross that happened in our garden) in the top bed, along with  Agave "Huastecta Giant (shown at the top in the image at left)," Agave americana striata (bottom left) and Agave americana "Lemon Lime" (bottom right.)  Agave "Mr Ripple" went in the left bed.

Overall that's six totally new species for us and the return of some nice ones. Hope they do really well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The weeds tho...


Matt and I headed to the garden to do some planting last weekend. For me it was more of a "point where I want it" as my knee is still iffy, but Matt was up for that.

We put in 6 Leucophyta brownii (syn. Calocephalus brownii)  "Silver Stone" which I grew on from plugs and 4" plants to this 1 gallon size over the last 6 months. I have 6 more at home that need to grow a bit more, too. This is a nice, super drought tolerant plant from Australia that we have had in the past - not very long lived but good for a few years.

We also put in two 15 gallon Yucca guatemalensis down at PRG which we grew from cuttings (on the right), and an Austrocylindropuntia subulata - the lovely Eve's Needle cactus that grows so well for us (on the left). More spines, less trouble, in my experience - at least, less trouble with theft, damage and destruction. More trouble with weeding, I must confess...

We watered the new Cussonias and pondered more planting. Loads more plants are waiting to go in at home, but lots of them need to get bigger before they can withstand life at the garden where people stand on them, let their dogs pee on them, and generally abuse them!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

African tree bonanza

Happy new year! We decided to kick off 2021 by planting some new trees from Africa from one our favorite genera, Cussonia. It was a bit of a soggy volunteer day but John, Chris and Bill helped Matt and I get the plants in and it was satisfying.

I had ordered 6 Cussonia paniculata from one of our favorite suppliers (Flora Grubb) a few months ago, expecting to receive six lovely blue-gray leaved plants described as "a large evergreen shrub or small tree" topping out around 10-15' in height and native to South Africa. We have one at home and it's lovely - one trunk, small poofball on top. Yep - we have lots of room for things like that.

However, what was delivered looked suspiciously different. Greener leaves, multi stemmed in some cases... and a trip to the Flora Grubb retail location caused more suspicion: they had the same 5 gallon plants but labelled Cussonia transvaalensis.

Nothing wrong with that. another blue-green leaves plant that tops out around 16'. A quick email to Flora Grubb's people and they confirmed the mixup - these are C. transvaalensis. Except... are they? The leaves are very green... and the multi-stemmed look is worryingly like Cussonia spicata, a bit sprawly monster going close to 50' tall!

Well, too late. They had to go in the ground so we will soon see what we get. Three went in at PRG (at the north corner, and two along the fenceline), three went in at PG  (in the middle back bed, on the terraces, and up at the very top of the garden by a loquat) And we also planted two Yucca filifera and two Yucca guatemalensis at PRG.

Matt fixed the tool chest with a new hasp from Chris (thank you!), and the new plants got some water (the ground is bone dry past the first 2" still...) and off we went home. Good job, chaps!

 
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