Saturday, February 28, 2009

Beached whale

Yesterday craigslist Plant Enabler Extraordinaire John went to the far north reaches of Sacramento, a land rarely seen, and procured for P. Garden a magnificent specimen of Agave americana variegata the size of which is a source of wonder and awe! Behold the behemoth:

We are thinking of naming it Moby Dick, and when it (somehow, eventually) is planted upright (requiring no doubt the force of an army of men) people will gasp and point at it, and small children will probably scream. I'd like it to go in the front-and-center bed, which means the lowly plants currently living there will need to move over to make room. Bwaaahahah!

Aside from admiring Moby D, today I planted another of John's planty donations: a hedge of aloes along the storm drain. Yes, 16 holes were dug and the hope is that they'll form a retaining hedge to prevent the mulch sliding into the drain, as it likes to do. Here you can see the before (left) and after (right):

I found a little snake (update: see comments - it's a California Slender Salamander) in the mulch too (left) And (below) two crocuses bloomed! Also, violets, lavender and a heuchera:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cutting remarks

Last night we planted some cuttings. After the "Great Thunbergia Disaster Of 2009" where I tried fruitlessly and repeatedly to root some Orange Clock Vine cuttings (only to discover they are considered very difficult to root, even by the pros!) I am wary of small snippets of twig and leaf, knowing they are now out to break my heart and make me look negligent by dying, immediately.

However, I've decided I want lots of lavender so I planted up 27 little cuttings in a tray, along with a dozen assorted succulent leaves and another dozen baby spider plants. With any luck I should have some nice little plants in a couple of months - the spider plants we know will thrive. You can't kill them by dousing them in fuel and setting them alight...

In other news, it has been pointed out by my Pa that I have not been properly capitalizing my latin plant names. And now that I look at the situation, I have also been labelling posts using common and latin names.

Sometimes the common name is the latin name, sometimes there is no common name. Oof. Well I will have to go back and fix this up.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Name of the Rose

Kepa gave me a standard rose I'd love to identify. It has small, pale pink flowers and a lovely light scent. Any ideas?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Naked ladies

Today I went up to the Haight and picked up over 20 Amaryllis belladonna bulbs from a craigslister whose name I totally failed to catch (so sorry!) - he also generously gave me lots of spider plants which might make good, tough border edging.

I can't wait to see the belladonnas (aka Naked Ladies) flower, though this might take a year or more - they hate to be disturbed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Well, not much happening in the garden today except rain falling nonstop, watering in all the plants planted yesterday! We're staying inside, propagating succulents.

Sadly, a cowardly someone also stole Jess' sign that was attached to a light pole and let people know where to place trash. They must have gone out in the pouring rain last night, with tools, to do that. Pathetic.

So, no real gardening today...


John, my most prolific craigslist plant enabler, dropped off about a hundred aloe plants he had acquired in Pleasant Hill. He was soaked to the bone - what a hero. He also gave us three agave americana variegata and another evil-looking agave (patonii? See below) with viciously long and sharp black spikes and teeth. I pity the fool that tries to steal this one - they will end up in the emergency room! (It was covered in dead tree leaves, which I removed carefully with kitchen tongs.)

Can't wait to plant these beauties - I think making a retaining hedge of the aloes alongside the storm drain will prevent mulch from falling into the drain. Seems like they grow vigorously, which is a good trait at P. Garden.

The patonii will go on the opposite side of the storm drain, against the wall. Regular garden visitors will be safe from it there, but hapless taggers will receive painful spikes to the shin region if they try to get near the wall to graffiti it at night. *cackle*

Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting stuck in (the ground) today

Things that got the dubious pleasure of being planted in P. Garden today include:

2 Solanum laciniatum (Kangaroo apple)
2 Heuchera (Coral Bells) "Snow Angel" and a dark purple one.
2 Impatiens niamniamensis "African Queen"
1 Bougainvillea (top - the "before" pic. Wonder what the "after" will look like!)
1 Hardenbergia violacea (Purple Coral Pea vine - below)
1 Cactus of unknown sort

Also: Digitalis purpurea (foxglove), Iris, Fragaria vesca (Alpine Strawberry), Cineraria and 3 Gasteria bicolor (Lawyer's Tongue) - all from craigslister Emma - thank you so much!

Hopefully the Bougainvillea and Hardenbergia will cover up the nasty chainlink fence, and deter people from climbing over it back there. I found several needles too - I should buy thicker gloves...

Our neighbor from up the hill David came by and offered us a lovely wooden garden arbor, which looks fantastic at the top of the steps. Thanks! He also brought us a massive bag of gorgeous lemons from his tree (how I covet that tree!) and I met his pretty daughter Julia too. Good times.

On top of that, Ron the Iron Maverick came by and man, is he a double espresso! In no time he had the arch picked up, put in place and staked. Then he put bricks on the steps. Oh and he added landscape stones to some plants on the hillside so they don't slide off. Oh and he shored up the downhill side of the path to the steps. Oh and he moved a big branch for me, and experimented with wavy bricks and, and, and... most of this time I was standing gabbing away with his lovely wife Gina and his dog Tank, so you know I felt like a loser when he drove off. What can I say - thanks for giving up almost a whole Saturday to P. Garden - I truly appreciate it :)

I did manage to scrape all the leaves and junk out of the gully and form them into a compost heap of sorts (left - not one that will decompose into usable compost as apparently cordyline leaves have a half life of 763,000 years), as well as weaving the front round border edge from all the leftover branches. I have to say branch weaving has been my favorite project at P. Garden - it doesn't murder my back, and they results are instant, useful and look good! I have spied more branches at Jackson field round the corner, and will try to get some (before they are wood-chipped) so I can weave edges for the remaining three borders.

I also extended the front edge border so the compost pile is gone (left.) The compost-and-branch pile is gone at last! What on earth shall we plant there?

Can't wait for the weekend

My new rule is "don't get new plants unless the old ones are all planted" since we've had a dozen pots hanging around the house, car and garden waiting patiently. I have been worried they'd be stolen or die, so last night we planted the cussonia by the lights of Gary's car, and this morning I planted an anisodontea and a little thorny twig Jared gave us, name unknown. Hopefully the rest of the plants go in tomorrow and we can get on with step building, border weaving and weeding without being distracted by the fun stuff!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guerilla gardening - it's the cool, new thing, kids.

Hazel is a freelance writer, and she came across the blog and emailed me to ask if she could mention P. Garden in her blog spot on (Sunset being the famed magazine of West-coast living.) We had a nice chat, and I realized that her angle is that P. Garden is not, uh, 100% legitimate... So that made me a bit nervous. But Hazel went on to describe me as "awfully brazen" in the piece, which naturally tickled me.

Anyway, here it is.

San Francisco Guerilla Gardener - Fresh Dirt -

Leave a comment there - support the dangerous and illegal practice of planting pretty things on land you don't own! *gasp!* Foliar graffiti!

Before work

We had a few plants languishing in the car (just ran out of energy to plant them last weekend) and they need to get in the ground before they sweat to death. This morning we put in a yucca rigida, euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge) and an unidentified reddish phormium-ish looking thing.

I also took a photo of another plant that needs to be identified, above. Any guesses?

UPDATE: it's cussonia natalensis “Rock Cabbage Tree” - a drought tolerant tree (yay!) "from the wooded grasslands of Natal and Gauteng in South Africa and also Zimbabwe and Swaziland in Southern Africa." OK, well then - should be able to manage the "hot, dry" site we have. Cool plant!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The sun came out...

...and to the garden we went. Three or four hours later, we'd planted:
Leucadendron salignum "Red tulip"
Silver-leaf princess plant (Tibouchina heteromalla)
2 Didymochlaena truncatula (fern)
2 Cheilanthes sinuata (fern)
Pyrrosia hastata (fern)
Aloe striatula
Agave attenuata
2 Ceanothus "Joyce Coulter"
Aloe lineata var. muirii
2 Clivia
Echium "Pride of Madera" variegated
Fuchsia boliviana
3 Ornamental grasses of some sort
An armful of Zantedeschia (callas)
A pile of succulents
A partridge in a pear tree...

I put a leucadendron at the front entry (top photo) surrounded by stones (the dietes that was in the front was being killed by dog pee.)

We've arranged the ferns and clivias in a shady spot at the top of the steps (above) below the standard roses. When the roses get watered, it will trickle down and water the ferns too. We planted tibouchina and fragrant ceanothus and African Blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal') to create shade for the ferns and a nice spot for our future garden bench (below - chair is where bench might be.) How awesome it will be to sit on that bench and enjoy the garden, one day.

Matt re-jigged the small front bed and added our prize echium, among other things (below) and now all it needs is a twig border. At P. Garden every third shovel strikes a rock/buried plastic bag/rusty battery, and all holes dug must be amended with compost or sand or have a virgin sacrificed on the spot in order to get deeper than 6". This is what we in the trade call a "bloody nightmare." Thank goodness Ron the Iron Maverick came by and lent us a wheelbarrow today! It saved many back-and-forth trips with shovels full of compost.

The compost pile is fast disappearing - I have mixed feelings about that. It's good that the unsightly heap is going to vanish from the front of the garden, but we do need that stuff to assist in converting the horrible rocky clay into something slightly plant-friendly. We can always go and pick up more of it in the car - perhaps we can create a pile in the back and add horse manure from the barn and house compost scraps too, but we will go through it very quickly. Something to ponder.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Serious rain now

It is chucking it down right now. I no longer fear drought for the Bay area, let's just put it that way. But on to the planty happenings...

A neighboring craigslister replied to my plant begging ad and we went over in the rain this morning to pick up a nice collection of Zantedeschia (Callas) Cannas, a cool Bolivian Fuchsia, ornamental grass, borage, (Borago officinalis) lovely African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum 'Dark Opal'), a Bougainvillea, a Wisteria, 2 standard roses, a Hydrangea and something else I am racking my brain over now!

Anyway, Kepa was also kind enough to offer the use of her greenhouse for our Leah-donated Australian seedlings. Hopefully the little sprouts will do even better with more light. Thanks Kepa!

A break in the rain and we went out to plant. Hydrangea in a shady spot. The 2 standard roses either side of the top of the steps Matt dug yesterday. Cannas in what's fast becoming canna-opolis (i.e. by the water supply) and holes dug for other things when the rain stops. Diana and her handsome Labrador Billy drop by, as does Jim with George the Rottie.

But wait! That's not all...

I was scanning craigslist earlier in the day and spotted a post from a guy called Jared giving away lots of perennials. I'd emailed him quickly, and he replied ready to give us a lot of stuff as he was moving house. We hightailed it down to Pacifica and our ghast was flabbered: a big collection of very cool stuff ready to give away!

Among other things we got a variegated Echium, Clivias, big Tibouchina, Aloe, Agave, ferns, bromeliads, Solanum laciniatum, Anisodontea (false mallow), Impatiens niamniamensis "African queen" - all sorts of cool stuff. Hopefully with labels on them. We stuffed the car full, sat some things on our knees, and made off. Thanks very much Jared - sorry you had to part with your plants, but lots of people will enjoy them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Il pleut.

Between (and during) rain showers* we planted succulents, Cordylines and Yuccas, installed the "pick up yer poop!" sign from Jess, wove a twig border around another bed, and cut some steps into the back slope - Matt will set them up with timber and bricks to make proper steps soon. Sage helped, Gary provided fasteners for the borders, and Jess and Sophia came by to supervise and try to steal my trowel :P

After lunch we went out again and our brick pile had multiplied - suddenly there were twice as many! I suspect Ron the Iron Maverick was the one who left the wavy bricks, and we were sorry to miss him.

Tomorrow: plant pickup at 10am, planting them shortly thereafter. Twig weaving, brick pondering, step architecture. It's all happening at P. Garden!

*We're up to about 70% of our seasonal total!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Edgy moment

I've been playing with different ways to create borders in the garden that will define the pathways better. Rocks are, annoyingly enough, fairly abundant, but not big enough to build into low walls. Mounds of mulch are quickly flattened and those landscaping timbers are annoyingly red and straight.

Leah suggested using branches. On the way to work I asked the guys who were pruning the ornamental pears outside our house to leave me a pile of long, thin branches on the sidewalk. When I got home they had left three HUGE piles of branches right in the garden!

Gary was about, and suggested metal staples to hold the branches in place. He quickly made me a couple to experiment with, but they won't go deep enough to hold securely. Then we thought about twine. It took me about 2 hours to bundle branches together and tie them with twine, creating about 20' of Andy Goldsworthy-inspired natural, unobtrusive, recycled border edging. I'll stake it down when I'm done - I've used about 1/3 of the branches. Should have enough for the two center beds as well, if I drag the plum clippings out of the gully.

When the plants grow bigger they'll cover the (by then decomposing) branches, and there will be no need for edging. You can see from the pics that the edges are about a foot in diameter, and currently go up the right side of the left-hand bed, curling around one of the plum trees at the top.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The plan, and thoughts about dogs

I've been planning out where paths and so on should go, and made a rough diagram. Of course this is subject to change, depending on how plants do, what path materials can be found, etc.

The image at left shows areas of plants, and paths, the location of benches for sitting, and steps to get up the steep part at the back. And last but not least the dog area!

As a past dog owner, I worry about dogs and cars, so I thought a thin border at the edge there would provide at least a visual barrier. Obviously some dog owners feel comfortable letting their dogs loose there, but I don't know of too many who'd think it wise to play ball or frisbee next to an unfenced freeway! So, clearly this area is for dogs to poop, not to exercise. No plants will go inside that area, and it will be up to dog owners to pick up poop, or step over the poop left by others.

Could a fence be built? I don't know - I'll ask Caltrans. I'm also going to ask them if we can have a trash can on site for poop (the ground is much too rocky to put in a dog poop composter.) The city one at 18th St is not far away, it's true, but someone keeps leaving poop in bags in front of Gary's business which seems to be their way of communicating displeasure about the removal of the trash can there.

Unfortunately, that poop-filled trash can stank, and bred a lot of flies, and Gary's employees and customers suffered because of it. Can you imagine working in a warehhouse that smells of dog poop? With millions of flies? The poop can had to go!

So why is this person leaving bags of poop there every day? My guess is that they don't know the story behind why the can had to go, and feel that they can force Gary to return the can by leaving their "messages." I bet that if they understood the whole story they wouldn't mind walking 50 feet to the city trash can at 18th.

When I used to walk my dog there I picked up my poop. It's not a lovely task, but it's a part of the responsibility of dog owning. I miss my dog so much, and would love to have shared this garden with him - perhaps I could get another dog who could help me dig holes. That would be the ultimate garden dog :)

That's a picture of my dog Sebastian. He was a great guy. *snif*

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Quick, before it rains!

(Above: Before and after) Today we scheduled a two hour window for gardening, and lots of people came by. Just after Matt and I finished tamping the dirt around the mega-yucca, Barbara, Sage and Elijah rolled up with their shovels, and coffee. We know they are determined diggers, so this was great news: Matt set them up planting Agapanthus on the horrible rocky edge the off ramp curves around. They put in probably a dozen or more, and then we moved a Ceanothus, and planted eight or so Amaryllis belladonna bulbs and three Vincas. Oh and after that the huge tub of bamboo that Julia gave us went in by the chainlink fence to hopefully screen the freeway from view. These people are unstoppable!

Not only that but they gave us a lovely donation towards what we jokingly called the "Sage and Barbara Memorial Bench" - we are going to have to find just the right seating device that gives at least three people a place to enjoy the garden from, so they can sit and enjoy their hard work together. While they are alive, you know? Thanks guys :)

John, donator of the mega-yucca at left, came over and pruned the Cordyline for us. Well, it didn't need pruning but it certainly wasn't doing us any good hidden away back there, so he cut off some tips for us to root, and took a long branch for himself. I was so pleased that he was happy with that - he's given us tons of plants so finally we can give him something back. And then later, while I was busy doing something else, he dropped off a dozen plus more plants! Where does he get it? He's like the pied piper of potted foliage!

Jess and the Princess Sophia came by and inspected our work too - I think we passed: Sophia keeps a close eye on the job! ;) I can't wait til the pathways are a bit nicer/cleaner for kids to use, and I can remove all the rusty wire flags, which I worry might cause a scratch. Speaking of paths, we moved some agapanthus by the Wrong Way sign, and Matt made a little brick path so dog owners can walk straight up to the trash can without having to pick across a flower bed.

Another person who came by was a guy who lives up the hill, with his two excellent dogs. I can't remember his name* now due to shock: he offered to build us a metal trellis arch and help make proper brick paths. Yep, I'm utterly ashamed that I forgot his name but what can I say? A trip to Home Despot can make me froth at the mouth, so you can imagine the scene I make when people offer me custom ironmongery and professional brick expertise... Anyway, I hope he emails me. He made a gateway up the hill that I have been admiring - it's gorgeous.

So we got loads done together. And now it is raining. Thank goodness for that.
Below left: Amaryllis belladonna planted around the base of an ornamental plum. Below right: bamboo

*Update: His name is Ron (I knew it!) and he's the Iron Maverick. Go to his site and check out the amazing things he can do with metal - wow.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Another big dig

This morning I headed out to Berkeley with Matt, to return to Julia's house. Her garden is about to undergo a transformation, and the old plants don't fit the new plan. Lucky for me! Once again the car was loaded with Agapanthus, Cannas, a few Crocosmias and several big fat Amaryllis belladonna ("naked ladies") bulbs!

We chatted with Julia as we were leaving and she mentioned her gardener was not fond of bamboo, of which she had two containers of the clumping type (i.e. not the kind that runs all over and takes over your garden.) Matt is a big bamboo fan (no, not a large fan made of bamboo... oh never mind...) and when Julia offered us a container of bamboo we were really excited. It's the perfect big, cool, jungly, low maintenance thing that will screen the freeway from view (that's it on the left.) Thank you so much Julia!

Back at the garden, I spent and hour or so cleaning up the trash, cans, bottles and needle (just one) that the homeless guy left. I'd called SF Homeless Outreach Team earlier in the week, to let them know he was there and ask if he needed help. They went out to offer him shelter and potentially permanent housing. It appears he took them up on the offer, and now we can prune the loquat he was living under.

Later that day at the barn we dug up some Vinca major (periwinkle) to go with the Vinca minor that Leah gave us last week. And tomorrow, we'll plant it all!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Succulent ID

Some of the succulents brought over by John recently are unknown to me (surprise!) so I'm posting them here so I can hopefully get an ID from some of my clever friends. The first is an interesting, small-leaved plant with soft, triangular (in section) leaves on pink stems (Update: it's Oscularia deltoides - pink iceplant.) The second is a massive great big cactus with very small spines which underwent a rot-removal operation with a breadknife last night. Our thoughts are with him at this stressful time... (Update: I think it's a Trichocereus pachanoi)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In case there was any confusion as to what to do with poop...

The lovely Jess went out of her way to get us a custom sign, directing people to place dog poop in the trash can by the bus stop. Here it is in all it's glory! I hope to install it at the weekend. Thank you Jess!

Today I planted a yellow rose bush that John gave us. He also inundated us with various amazing cacti (Trichocereus) and succulents (Aeonium, Agave fillifera) which we hope will spring to life on the lot soon! Thanks again John - your contributions are always unusual and cool :D

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dig, dig, dig

Up early to clear the back part by the wall and dig a hole for the big Yucca. (Need Matt assistance to plant that)

And two more holes for two of the Yucca branches. (Ditto)

And plant the mini Agapanthus that will die unless they go in the ground, and I don't have time to divide them so splat! They went in one big hole.

A girl with two dogs came by and smiled and waved merrily as her dogs, I later found, made a large deposit not five steps from the poop bag station. Next time I shall smile and wave merrily as I hand her her dog poop, neatly bagged, and tell her "oops, you dropped something!" :D

Monday, February 2, 2009

Paths of least resistance

Left: a shot of the garden from the apartments opposite, courtesy of Max!

Over the weekend I noticed that although I may delineate bed edges with stones or lumber, people and animals have a natural propensity to go directly where they want to go, and don't see those flimsy "boundaries."

Being someone who tries to choose her battles wisely, a rethink of the layout is in order.

I plan to move some Agpanthus by the "Wrong Way" sign to allow people to exit the garden there too, on their way to the trash can. And a ceanothus by the ornamental plums is going to relocate too, so people can walk directly through that area to get to the top of the garden.

We still need some material to build up the bed edges, and Leah suggested pruned branches. I could use wooden stakes or rebar staples to curve them around beds, and the effect could be a very nice woven look. Long-term, they'd decompose, but short term, they are free! As soon as I get enough I'll look for rebar staples to hold them in place.

This morning we watered with our buckets. Should get some rain on Thursday and Friday - I hope!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Up with the lark (or should that be mockingbird?) today to head down to the Mission. Wendy is a nice craigslister who used to have a large jade plant (Crassula ovata) in her front garden she wanted rid of. Now it's mine-all-mine! We split it up and beautified two places with it. Could it be that we have enough Jade now? Possibly.

I planted Leah's vinca minor and Russian sages (Perovskia) in various places, tidied plum offcuts into bouquets and made five people quite happy I think ;) Then, later in the day, I planted a big clump of Julia's Watsonia that did not want to be divided by a weakling such as myself. I did manage to split apart lots of mini Agapanthus to put by the sidewalk but my god, digging holes there is a misery.

Carrie dropped by and gave me a yummy gift, Jim must have been through while I was out because his dog poop sign-and-biodegradable-bag-station is open for business (hurrah!) and Jess and Sophie came by for a chat. Sophie learned the word "shovel" today - how long until I can get her digging?

I still have a big clump of Agapanthus and John's Yuccas to plant. I am stressed about the big Yucca especially - it needs to be planted but I don't have the Matt-power yet! I will talk to him tonight and we'll make a plan.

I am completely exhausted. It must be wine o'clock by now!

As I sit here savoring a delicious Advil...

Saturday morning I went to Berkeley for a couple hours of light digging. The charming Julia had offered me free plants from her front garden via Freecycle, so I went off expecting to find few things left as other gardeners were converging on the spot over the weekend. But no - she had more Agapanthus, Crocosmia, Cannas, and succulents than I could stuff in my car. I even found a couple Amaryllis belladonna bulbs I think, growing amid an agapanthus forest.

I dug and dug. I dug some more. The car was full and I was still digging. I was sweating. The sun was beating down. The neighbors were looking at me funny. My back was twingeing. And I barely made a dent in the endless supply of plants! Thank you very much Julia - what a difference this will make to P. Garden!

Of course then I returned to the homestead to plant them all and suddenly I regretted my greed: now I had to dig more holes to plant them! And of course, unlike the lush soils of Berkeley, where you put your heel to a spade and it slides in, here at P. Garden one applies force to the spade and instantly hits rocks. So, I wasn't so much digging as hacking, violently.

After a few hours of this frenetic stabbing and scrabbling at the unhelpful ground, with no lunch, I just about fainted. Leah our Special Guest Arborist also spent many hours today pruning the tops of the (now flowering) cherry plums and they look fabulous. She also brought 2 Vinca minor (periwinkle) and a Russion sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)! Oh how I rubbed my hands together with glee: Matt thinks we will be strangulated by Vinca in the night, but he's wrong. Wrong, I tell you!

I felt like such a wimp telling Leah I was done for the day at 3.30pm, but in the end it's very lucky I did - I went down to Pacifica to see our horses and one of them was suddenly very sick.* I had to rush him ot the vet hospital and didn't get home til midnight. Argh!

Today I'm going to plant the rest of the Crocosmia and mini Agapanthus that I tarped up for the night. I'm just going to let this lovely Advil kick in before I hobble over to the garden to see what awful plant location choices I made yesterday during my feverish battle with the dastardly dirt...

* It was colic, for those who know horses. He didn't require surgery overnight so we hope to pick him up today :)
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