Monday, September 21, 2020

It's a great time to plant agaves

Summer has given way to fall, but if you've lived in the Bay area for long you'll know now is the driest time of year. The gardens are parched and the ground is dusty dry, and we have watered a few plants (new tree Aloes, and a palm we planted) but some plants love the heat. Agave is one genus that thinks the hotter the better!

We did have some weird weather recently that some agaves didn't love though. A hot dry spell, followed by foggy, smoke-laden air, leads to some agaves ending up with edema scarring. 

These mottled marks on some leaves are caused by water being pulled up to the leaves during hot weather, but stopping in its tracks when cool, humid weather hits. The cells loaded with water then burst and scar the leaves. Unfortunate, but the plants will eventually grow new leaves.

We had a lovely September volunteer day, with Chris, Josh, Matt, Hilary, John and Andrea generating 18 bags of green waste for recycling! We got lots of plants cut back (the cardoon, salvias, euphorbias and so on) and turned and watered the compost.

We also planted some great agaves that Matt and I have been growing. Josh put in three Agave maximiliana... or they might be Agave zebra. Except both of these species are supposed to be solitary and this one pups like mad...We will just have to wait and see what they turn into.

Josh also planted a group of seven Agave desmettiana variegates behind the wrong way sign. That area has become a huge farm for baby agaves but we hope to reorganize the plants, put them in groups, and make something pretty out of it all soon.

Matt and I visited with the famous Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Gardens the following week, and had a blast weeding his pots of hybrid Agaves, Aloes and Gasterias while talking about all the cool plants he has grown and known. 

 In exchange he gave us some lovely plants for the garden, including three Aloe polyphylla hybrids which we planted right away on the lower pathway where they will hopefully thrive. Matt added five more Agave desmettiana variegates in that area too, as well as a few on the way to the tool trunk.

A week later Matt and I were back at the garden, planting yet more Agaves we have been growing on at home. We did two groups of Agave gypsophylla up in the top area of PG, and a group of three Yucca aloifolia "Magenta Magic" down at PRG.

It's great to get some plants out of our home garden and into the public gardens - it can take years to grow something big enough to plant out in a street park (small plants tend to get stolen, or crushed) and I feel now that 3-5 gallons is the minimum if possible.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

2 workdays, no mention?

We had our June workday and I didn't take any photos! What's wrong with me? Don't answer that. We did get a lot done: compost got turned by John, loads of Chasmanthe and Euphorbia characias got cut back, and mountains of weeds removed from their smug little lives by Chris, Matt and John's friend whose name I forgot (sorry!)

Jon and Joe have been weeding away like crazy in between workdays too, and cleaned up the kiosk area beautifully as well.  Check it out!

We also watered a bit - the garden is dry as can be which is usual for this time of year, but even the tough plants look a bit tired in summer.

Last week Matt and I popped out to water a couple of plants as well. We bumped into Chris who was there mulching his Agave bed - the area behind the wrong way sign.  He's been BUSY cleaning that area up and it looks outstanding. We use it as a "pup farm" for baby Agaves to grow on and they have been doing really well so it's time to rearrange them, maybe add some ground cover.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Chasmathe are DONE!

Matt and I spent a couple hours weeding at the garden today. We turned two compost bins and watered them (after removing a huge amount of trash from one bin) and while Matt watered other already parched looking plants, I tied back the Phlomis at the steps and then cut back a lot of Chasmanthe.

I love Chasmanthe in later winter - fresh green leaves, orange flowers - what a great sight at the coldest time of the year. But right about now they are done flowering and their leaves turn yellow and crash. So they get cut to the ground - all 20 clumps of them... I managed about 4 clumps today.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Plant Profile: Cistus purpureus (Orchid Rockrose)

Latin name: Cistus purpureus ("SISS-tuss purr-purr-EEE-uss")
Common name: Orchid Rock Rose
Originally from: throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal through to the Middle East, and also on the Canary Islands.
Blooms: Bright magenta flowers 3" across blanket the plant in spring and summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4' x 6'
Zones: 8-11
Where to find in P. Garden: Three at the top of PG

A tidy, compact, sun and heat-loving evergreen shrub. In spring it's covered in outrageous 3" wide rose-purple blooms with maroon spots and a gold center. Tolerates drought, poor soil, and total neglect, and the leaves have an interesting resinous scent. Yep, you need a rockrose in your life!

This is the best rockrose for seaside conditions as it doesn't care about salt spray, wind and sandy soil. It is also one of the hardiest of rockroses, tolerating temperatures down to around 15 degrees F.

This plant is an old garden hybrid between Cistus ladanifer and C. creticus. Listed in 1819 in Syndenham Edward's Garden Register of exotic plants cultivated in British Gardens, the author wrote that it was universally known at the time as Cistus creticus "from which however it has been well distinguished by the industrious and sagacious Chevalier de Lamarck in his excellent Encyclopaedia Botanique."

I am sure the sagacious Chevalier would also tell you that you can cut it back as you like, and it forms a nice solid screening plant mixed with other Mediterranean climate plants. Stems often layer at ground level and root, and I would expect they're pretty easy to start from cuttings, though I haven't tried.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Sun and showers and tree felling

"April showers bring May flowers" as the saying goes. But May showers? They bring weeds, m'kay? Anyway, weeding is the Ultimate Pandemic Activity IMO: a) you're socially distanced b) outdoors c) wearing gloves anyway and c) talk about cathartic - ripping out weeds will really let out any anger you might have!

With that in mind, Matt and I went out to PG to weed a bit. And there we found Joe who was watering his little area by the bench. He and Jon refinished the bench, made the signs and solar lights and have been refilling the bird feeders to boot. I propose a Garden Volunteer Award 2020 for each of them!

I cleared the path from the top of the steps to the top of the garden - about 3 giant tubtrugs of weeds to the composter. Matt was doing something but I have no idea what.

And today, Chris emailed to show me that the final dead Monterey pine has been removed! Where were those logs falling? Into the garden? I have no idea.  But it's (almost, probably, mostly) gone! So I'm happy!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Still volunteering, but not together

We decided not to have the workday last weekend, as social distancing is still in effect, However, I went to he garden to weed on Sunday and was delighted to see Jon there with his doggo.

To my surprise and delight, Jon and his friend whose name escapes me (sorry!) have REFINISHED THE BENCH. And also printed up and laminated some great signs and added some solar lights at the garden and refilled the bird feeders and... I don't know what to say!

I was so thrilled by this. Jon you are a lovely man. Thank you.

I set about weeding happily at the steps, and in an hour they are really looking good. Yes, it's just about impossible to find a plant that wants to act a a weed-suppressing ground cover there - I have tried so many things. But for right now that look good. I do need to find a way to tie back the unruly Phlomis purpurea that's flowering away there and leaning into the path there. but I don't feel too mad at them.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Plant Profile: Acacia baileyana

Latin name: Acacia baileyana "Purpurea" ("ah-KAY-shah bay-lee-AH-nah pur-pur-EE-ah")
Common name: Purple Fernleaf Acacia, Cootamundra Wattle
Originally from: southern New South Wales, Australia
Blooms: Covered in fragrant bright yellow pom-pom shaped flowers in late winter to early spring.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 20' x 40'
Zones: 8 - 10
Where to find in P. Garden: Several are planted at PRG

This is a great street tree: fast-growing and evergreen with weeping branches. silvery blue-gray, feathery leaves that look somewhat purple when they're young, and give the whole tree a purplish look. That is, when it's not dripping with bright yellow flowers! It's low litter (doesn't drop stuff all over the ground) and won't get tall enough to damage overhead wires either.

Plant this tree in full sun to light filtered shade; once established it is frost tolerant and very drought tolerant too.

Like a lot of Acacias, it is relatively short lived for a tree but for 30 years or so makes a dramatic statement in the garden as a trained-up street or patio tree or left with lower branches as a large shrub or low branched tree.

This tree won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993. It has a very small range in the wild, only seen in areas around Cootamundra in southern New South Wales, Australia where it is commonly called the Cootamundra Wattle.

The species is named after Frederick Manson Bailey (1827-1915), Australian botanist and son of colonial botanist John Bailey (1800-1864). The species was first introduced into California by Dr. Franceschi (Fenzi) in 1903. Naturally occurring purple leaved plants in the wild have been noted to have varying degree of purple in the new growth and the cultivar name "Purpurea" was registered by the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority in 1994.

Monday, April 20, 2020


Today, Tomas and his helper attacked the weeds at PRG again in a concerted effort to clear the pathway of fennel. Josh organized it all, and the results are amazing.

Last weekend, we had 10 volunteers working for 2 hours - that's 20 person-hours of work. But, you have to understand that for us, volunteer weeding is meant to be fun, so it's not like we crack the whip and work like machines. Well, some of us do ;)

However, Tomas and co are paid, and they started at 8am and worked til 3pm - 2 x 7 hours is 14 person-hours. But they DO work like machines. And they have some serious drive! So they plowed through the weeds and swept and leaf-blowed and raked and made everything gorgeous for us. Wow.

While I was at home sipping tea and eating Welsh cakes, the team weeded the BRCs, and destroyed fennel and other Really Bad Weeds like it was their job. Ahem.  See for yourself!



Saturday, April 18, 2020

Impromptu workday at PRG

Marcella and Mikey
I texted a few of our garden regulars to hold an impromptu workday today, as PRG has become such a weedy mess it's actually alarming.

Much to my delight, a crew of masked workers (a total of 10 people) showed up and after we identified who they were from a distance (kidding!) we got down to business and weeded out an absolute mountain of weeds.

Josh, John, Chris, Aditi, Mikey and Marcella worked away for more than 2 hours, starting where Josh, Tomas and crew left off last week. Each person chose a nice distanced spot, and masks and gloves stayed on.

At one point a neighbor pulling up in their car asked if we wanted help. OH YES! Andrea and her partner Patrick got stuck in right away, and made a big dent in the weeds.

John, slacking as usual!
I took some before pictures, but forgot to get afters. However, lots of pics of our intrepid volunteers enjoying the warm and sunny spring weather.

I also picked up lots of trash, as did others - always a problem at PRG, but now including discarded masks and gloves. Good people of San Francisco, WTAF is wrong with you? I am not shocked though - I have cleaned up more used needles, dirty diapers, used condoms and canine and human feces than any unpaid volunteer should have to over the last 11 years...

One thing that really cheered me up was Andrew and Rufus dropping by with baked goods. Baked goods always cheer me up - and in this case they were delicious Welsh cakes with cardamom and cranberries.

Each Welsh cake is made by showing a lump of lard a photo of some flour and sugar, and as a result contains about 15,000 calories of pure culturally appropriate bliss for me, so I ate two.

Later on, when Andrew offered me the remainder to take home instead of demurely/wistfully declining, I snatched them out of his hands like a rabid monkey and hid them in my car. I think he was a bit shocked.

Next week, Tomas and co will be back to do more paid weeding at PRG - focusing on digging out fennel along the path, and Josh will be there to work with them. 

Small Aditi, huge weeds
Hopefully that gets rid of the majority of the weeds - it's unfortunate to have to pay someone to do this as a volunteer run garden, but at the same time it's good to be able to pay someone who needs the work.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Plant Profile: Yucca rigida (Blue Yucca)

Just planted
Latin name: Yucca rigida ("YOU-kah ri-GEE-dah")
Common name: Blue Yucca, Silver Leaf Yucca, Palmilla.
Originally from: the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, and Zacateca.
Blooms: A tall spike of creamy-white flowers emerges from the central crown in spring.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 15' x 5'
Zones: 7-10
Where to find in P. Garden: We have two at the top of at PG

This beautiful slow-growing tree-like yucca grows up to 15' tall, with occasional branching. The attractive 3 foot long by 1 inch wide, stiff, slightly waxy, pale silver to whitish gray leaves have narrow yellow margins and are dense, giving a symmetrical and architectural appearance.

Flowers in bud
The old leaves point downwards, creating a skirt on the stem, and finally fall off leaving a soft fibrous covering on the trunk. When it flowers, this species is as stunning as many other Yuccas.  In spring, huge clusters of white flowers hang off a thick 2' long spike that pops out from within the crowns.

Like other Yucca species, Y. rigida is pollinated by moths, and after being pollinated the flowers develop into short-cylindrical pods with pointed tips. After a couple of months, the capsules dry and split open to release the black seeds.  We don't have those moths locally, so sadly we won't be getting any seed pods.

This Yucca is like all the other hardcore drought tolerant members of it's family, performing best in warm sunny areas with good drainage and occasional to infrequent summer irrigation. It prefers alkaline conditions and is hardy to around 0°F.

Foliage pairings
We planted three of these in early 2019, and one died - it had been somewhat buried in mulch at the base, and I think that rotted it.  However, the remaining two look outstanding and are growing and flowering. Perhaps we will replace the first one with another - with a small trunk!

This Yucca is similar to Yucca rostrata, and the two are often confused. Y. rigida has leaves that are much more stiff - rigid, in fact. Y. rostrata has shorter, slightly twisted and softer leaves.  I have heard a joke about how to tell the difference between Yucca aloifolia and Yucca elephantipes, and it kind of applies to the difference between Y. rigida and Y. rostrata. If you fall into a patch of Y. elephantipes (or Y. rostrata) you will emerge pretty scratched up. If you fall into a patch of Y. aloifolia (or Y. rigida) you won't emerge...

Monday, April 13, 2020

PRG receives emergency haircut

Josh (L) and me (R)
I hadn't been down to PRG due to oh, global pandemic and things like that, but we went on Saturday because Josh alerted me to the fact that weeds were taking over. It was bad. It was like we'd never weeded there in our lives. Actually it was more like The Day of the Triffids.

Not the "greatest science fiction novel of all time" version from 1952, not the cheesearriffic 1962 movie, but the UK TV version from 1981 in which poorly dressed and somewhat hirsute persons are blinded by a meteor shower and awaken the next day to discover giant mutant plants are walking around killing and eating people.

Wasn't there a path once?
Yes. Just like that. We weeded for two hours on Saturday and barely made a dent. Ugh... something had to be done.

Happily, we were able to hire magical Tomas and his friend, thanks to Josh, and today Josh spent the entire day with them weeding the Triffids out of the garden.

They must have removed a metric ton of weeds. I can't begin to tell you how much joy this brings me, but I want to all to get down on your knees next time you see Josh. It is sure to go to his head, but there you are. Look at the pictures. I don't know what to say.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Weeds thwarted despite pandemic

Weed rampage
Last week Josh risked his LIFE to go to the garden and do some weeding. Either he's an extremely devoted volunteer, or he needed a break from reality. Either way, he demolished a load of weeds!

Also, there was additional excitement to be had. His message to me read "Exciting car crash on the bridge. Stolen Lexus totaled on the guardrail. Driver ran away but the cops got him."

I am sure the driver was speeding to the garden, keen to help us get rid of some weeds. But really folks - be like Josh. Take it easy, pull some weeds, don't break any laws. It's not worth it!

Also one wonders how much it costs to replace that guardrail over and over, and when Caltrans or DPW will come up with a better idea? Answer: Lots and never?
page counter
Free Hit Counter