Sunday, November 29, 2009

New species visits P. Garden!

I keep catching sight of that durn rabbit out of the corner of my eye and having palpitations! So today when we had yet another species visit the garden I almost jumped out of my skin. However, it turned out to be "someone" I know!

At first she was a bit worried - she kept looking back at her home, the lovely white Victorian on the corner.

But she trotted over, meowing the whole way!

Wait! What's that?! Over there!

She's a sweetie though!

Stylish in her green collar. She has a short tail - she looks like a bobcat.

And off she bounded to work on her camouflage. Which isn't bad at all, I might add.

In other news, I went to Home Despot (uh-oh) and get a flat of red Gazanias which I planted in the red bed and front bed. They were also having a half off bulb sale (woot!) so I got (and planted) 14 Narcissus tazetta
(scented geranium daffodils), 10 Narcissus triandrus "Thalia" (white scented daffodils) and 14 Narcissus "Salome" (pink and white daffodils). Yep - daffodil addiction in full swing, people. I have never seen a garden with daffodils in it and thought "my god, they've really overdone it  - too many daffs!" Never. Not once.

I should mention another great surprise: Anna was at the garden, weeding away, when I arrived today. Sweet! Can't beat that for a Thanksgiving moment :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Plant profile: Psoralea pinnata, the Kool Aid bush

Today we have another wonderful article by P. Garden supporter and Potrero Hill resident Josh - click his name to see all his articles. Enjoy!

Plant Profile: Psoralea pinnata, the Kool Aid bush
Fabaceae Family

A few years ago, I was on a garden tour in San Francisco. As a group of us plant geeks walked down a street, hunting for the address of the next garden, we passed a small tree, or large shrub, covered in a haze of blue flowers. From a distance, it appeared to be a Ceanothus, but as we got closer, we realized that it was a large Psoralea pinnata, the South African shrub pea, or fountain bush. It was definitely popular with the local bees and other pollinators, and was practically buzzing with their activity.

Psoralea pinnata has been grown in gardens since the late 1600’s, when it was introduced to English gardens from seeds brought back from South Africa. Like many South African plants, it thrives in the milder parts of California, where it is safe from frost. The name fountain bush refers to its habit of growing along streams and in wet places in the wild. In cultivation, it does best in well-drained soil, and needs little water once established. It can be pruned after blooming to limit its size, or it can be allowed to grow into a small, elegant tree up to 12 feet tall. The flowers are not very large, but they blanket the ends of the branches in a cloud of color ranging from blue to purple. They look almost like blue moths; in fact, the flower structure is described as ‘papillonaceous’, or butterfly-like, by our botanist friends. When in bloom, the amazing fragrance is similar to grape drink, leading to another common name: the Kool Aid bush.

The Latin name for this plant comes from the Greek word ‘psoraleos’, meaning warty. This refers to the dots that cover the leaves. The species name, ‘pinnata’, refers to the pinnate form of the leaves.

Psoralea pinnata is easy to grow from seed. While small, make sure it gets regular waterings. Once it is larger and planted in the ground, it can do with occasional watering during the dry season. Flowering is best in full sun, although the plant can tolerate some shade. Seedlings can often be found growing near an older plant, and are easily dug up and given to lucky friends.

There is a small kool aid bush in the Pennsylvania Garden, near the bench. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but hopefully this summer we will all be enjoying the scent of grape Kool Aid and watching the bees dancing around this plant.

Update: Photos above show our plant flowering away!

UPDATE December 2015:
After 7 years in the ground and 4 years of drought, this plant grew to 15' tall but very sadly succumbed to the drought in the end and died after years of beautiful flowers and an excellent, evergreen form. I would love to replace it, even though it could not handle extreme drought.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Easter? What the...? Oh snap!

On Thursday Emily planted a Scabiosa cretica from her own allotment to P. Garden. She also moved a Tulbaghia and I went by at lunchtime to water them in.

On Saturday Matt and I were planting succulents and Yucca tips around the garden from last week when Gary showed up.  "Quick! Come here!" he called to me "And be quiet - there's a rabbit in the garden!"

I rushed over, all agog to hear that a rabbit not only existed in the city, but had crossed multiple roads to get to the garden and was somehow hanging out in plain view! Gary and Matt were pointing to a small, furry form under the tree dahlia* which as I approached appeared to be a white rabbit. Oh well, I thought - a lost pet. We'll have to catch it...

But no. It was oddly still... in fact... it was dead. It was a taxidermied white rabbit attached to a piece of wood.

Right then.

On Sunday I went to Jo's house, and she gave me all sorts of plants for the garden. Thanks Jo! Then I met Emily in the garden. She's going to be planting up some bare spots in some beds and had prepared some printouts to show me her plans. She knows all sorts of cool flowers that will work in the garden - can't wait to see what she does!

Emily also planted 6 Calendulas and a Coreopsis in the back middle bed, thereby increasing the yellow:purple ratio to a much better balance.

Photo at left shows the view of the bench from the path below, with Callas in the front, and Crocosmias sprouting behind them.

*The tree dahlia snapped in the storm this week. Oh well - you had your chance to see it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today we have another splendid article by P. Garden supporter and Potrero Hill resident Josh. Enjoy!

Mulch is such an evocative word. It always makes me think of something vaguely mysterious, with an earthy smell and unclear origins. In reality, mulches are one of the gardener’s best friends. There are many different materials that can be used as mulch, but they all have many of the same benefits for the garden. Mulches shade the soil, keeping plant roots cool in the hot sun, and warmer at night when the air temperature drops. Mulches also help the soil retain water, so that the soil moisture is more even between waterings, and can reduce erosion from water runoff. Mulches can also reduce weed growth in the garden. Many types of mulch decompose over time, adding nutrients to the soil. Besides these practical reasons for using them, many mulches just make a garden look nicer.

There are organic and inorganic mulches. The inorganic mulches include plastic sheeting, gravel, tumbled glass, and in some gardens, bowling balls and broken dinner plates. Obviously, these mulches are not going to break down and add nutrients to the soil, but they will perform all the other roles of mulch that are listed above. Some plants, such as succulents and cacti, don’t like lots of organic stuff in their soil or at their feet. Inorganic mulches, such as pebbles, gravel and rocks, are ideal for these plants. I’ve seen tumbled glass  used as a striking mulch in several gardens. There are few limits in terms of materials that can be used as inorganic mulch, so let your imagination run wild!

The organic mulches include straw, garden compost, leaves, pine needles, cardboard, newspaper, wood chips, bark chips, cocoa hulls, sawdust and lots of other materials. All of these are derived from plants, and will break down over time and add nutrients to the soil. Generally speaking, no matter what kind of organic mulch you use, plan on using at least a 3-inch thick layer of mulch between plants. Keep the mulch away from the bases of plants in order to allow water to enter the soil and to keep the bases of the plants from rotting.

Depending on the material you want to use, there are many sources for mulch. The deep, luxurious mulch in the Pennsylvania Garden was donated by the Bay View Green Waste Management Company. You can contact them if you are interested in getting some mulch for your garden - they make their mulch from the contents of the city’s green bins.

If you are curious about this mulch, check it out the next time you are in the garden. Carefully stick your fingers in one of the planting beds and lift up a bit of the mulch. You will probably find that it is dry on top and moist further down. Most of the beds in the garden are thickly mulched (4 to 6 inches) to help compensate for the lousy soil, so you probably won’t hit dirt if you stick your finger in it. An added benefit of this thick mulch is that the weeds that do manage to grow are usually really easy to pull out! The succulent beds have much less mulch, and we are hoping to get some gravel to use in these beds. If you have any unwanted gravel, let Annie know!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Plant profile: Tibouchina

Our original Princess Plant (Tibouchina urvilleana) was the first plant I noticed at P. Garden, planted by Jim who had rescued it from the street. She was a scraggly specimen with a split trunk and long, unbalanced branches that had not been looked after over the years. For her own good, she had to be pruned rather hard by Leah, and for a while there we wondered if she was going to make it. She has since bounced back and is currently putting on quite the display (photo bottom)!

I got another type from Jared, a Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver Leafed Princess Flower - left), which looks swell by the bench with it's silvery, fuzzy leaves. This one has a different type of flower habit too, with the smaller flowers appear along a vertical spike.

Latin name: Tibouchina (tib-oo-KEE-nah, tib-oo-CHEE-nah)
Common name: Princess Plant, Glory Bush
Originally from: The rainforests of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America, especially Brazil.
Blooms: They're pretty much covered in waves of big purple flowers almost all the time
Light: Full sun!
Water: Average to low once established.
Where to find in P. Garden: See the original Tibouchina urvilleana in the center back bed, and  the Tibouchina heteromalla (Silver Leafed Princess Flower) next to the bench.

There are about 350 species of Tibouchina. The name comes from an adaptation of the native Guiana term for these shrubs. Although a common and beloved plant here in California, the Princess Plant is a nasty invasive weed in Hawaii. I have to say I don't have a lot of compassion for the Hawaiians, since they can grow all sorts of tropical stuff year round but I suppose you have to have weeds, even in paradise.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Plant swapping

I removed the Hyadrangea and Wisteria last week, after giving them almost a whole year to make a go of it (sorry Kepa!) but they didn't like life at P. Garden. So I put them on craigslist.

This resulted in Matt and I driving to El Sobrante yesterday and trading the plants for other plants owned by a woman called Shanti. Namely, some Yuccas, Aloes, Opuntias and other succulent cuttings, including some Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. Neato.

I also spent some time in the garden with Emily and her mum discussion options for plants Emily's going to add to the garden. She knows more about annuals and flowers than me, so I'm enlisting her help to plan a few extra spots.

Also, almost forgot to mention that lovely Josh propagated several Dipogon lignosus (aka Dolichos lignosus) - the Australian Pea Vine or Cape Sweet Pea! I had researched the prefect vine to grow on the arch at the front of the garden, and decided on this one. It had to be evergreen, flowering, hardy and scented, and this one checks all the boxes!

Josh came over and constructed some bamboo trellis to assist it up the smooth arch sides, and planted 3 vines on each side (photo above.) Can't wait to see it in all it's hot pink glory.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sit still

Today the San Francisco Botanical Garden was having a sale, so naturally I was drawn there at a brisk trot. I dragged Matt along and we got one plant (One! Plant!) which was an incredible display of restraint if I do say so myself. The plant was Eriogonum giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace - the largest of the native "Buckwheats") and it will make a good 4' tall and wide shrub on the far side of the steps to block the view and sound of the freeway. It's a very drought tolerant native from Santa Catalina Island with lovely white flowers, which are an important food source for butterflies and bees galore.

Matt also moved some Mexican feather grass, a Dianthus, and we put the Leucadendron from the front of the left bed up in the red bed before it was killed: it's branches were being broken off and it smelled like dog pee: not the hardiest specimen to pose as a dog urinal. We replaced the Leucadendron with a variegated Agave americana (left) which will echo the large one in the middle bed, and should be tough enough to survive.

While Matt was busy moving plants around I enjoyed a chat with Joan who was in the neighborhood. Suzannah, a yoga instructor on the hill, once told her class that when you sit still (in a pose) for quite a while, things change. It was great to sit still on the bench with Joan and hear her talk, our feet resting on the Victorian bricks she found for the garden, and her Buddleja growing behind us. Thanks Joan.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plant profile: Tree Dahlia

Something is happening in the garden right now and you need to see it: our Tree Dahlia is flowering! Get out there right now and take it in: it will soon be over and the plant will be cut back to the ground until next year.

During the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the mountain regions of Mexico and Guatemala. They brought with them botanists, who cataloged the local plant life when they weren't busy conquering the local Aztec tribes. With hollow canes, the Tree Dahlia was often used for hauling water or as an actual source of water to Aztec hunters: the Aztec name for the Tree Dahlia was "Acocotli" or water-cane. Today the Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.

Latin name: Dahlia imperialis ("DAH-lee-ah im-peer-ee-AH-liss")
Common name: Tree Dahlia.
Originally from: Central America.
Blooms: 4 to 6 inches across, and lavender or white. Ours is lavender.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Average water.
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed.

This is not your ordinary Dahlia. If you are expecting brightly colored pom-poms of petals in a 1-2' high plant, think again - this is your Dahlia on steroids!

Growing up to 20' high in a single year, the Tree Dahlia is drama on a stick. Literally - a stick. We bought a dry stick about 12" long from the Berkeley Arboretum back in mid-April, planted it in the ground and now it's about 12' tall! (Photo above with 6' tall Matt for scale) Our Tree Dahlia is absolutely covered in flowers: a pretty good crop for it's first year.

The only problem with this shocking display of herbacious brawn is that it just might flower right before it gets blown down by a winter storm. Or it might not! Many people give up on Tree Dahlia as they never get to see the flowers bloom, but ours has made it this year and you can't miss it.

Due to it's amazing growth, high failure rate, and the massive hole it leaves in your border when you cut it back, this plant is not seen for sale very often. However, we have room for spectacular feats of foliar whimsy here at P. Garden - enjoy! We will have cuttings available when the time comes, and if you'd like some please let me know.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cactus happenings

Yesterday Matt and I went over to pick up some cacti, an Agave and Yuccas from John. John is always exceptionally generous with his plants and we loaded up the car with all sorts of new and cool stuff. And it is now clear to me that I have no idea what most of my cacti are, so I'll have to post some pics and try and get some hints.

First we planted 3 Yuccas to the side of the stairs (left). I don't know what kind they are but they are shortish, multi-trunked affairs and very cool. (UPDATE: John says they are Yucca recurvifolia)  Behind them I'll put a shrub of some sort that's about 6' wide and tall and quite dense, to block the view and sounds of the freeway and the view of the compost piles. Any suggestions? Must be extremely drought tolerant, enjoy 4-6 hours of hot sun and preferably be an evergreen perennial with yellow or white flowers.

Two plants that had been in that area were removed: a pink Hydrangea and the Wisteria. Neither of these has been thriving with the lack of water so if anyone wants them speak up: they are ready to rehome.

Next we tackled some cactus wall plantings. We removed the annual Euphorbia lathyrus (Gopher Purge) that was done for the year and moved the Sedum telephium "Autumn Delight" up to the cherry tree area. In the space left we put a Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita) which has a lovely pinkish tinge. I moved a purplish ice plant to be in front of it, as well as a cutting of Calandrinia grandiflora (Rock Purslane) with the lovely pink flowers.

Another prickly pear, O. aciculata (Chenille Prickly Pear) we planted (above left) is new to me - it has long spikes coming from the middle of yellow puffs of what look like soft, fuzzy buttons on each pad. Cactus afficionados and local vandals though will tell you that these are dangerous. They're actually loosely-connected spines (called glochids) that work their way into your skin through two pairs of work gloves and create burning sores until you cut them out with a pair of sharp nail scissors. Ask me how I know this! It does make them very tricky to place in a pleasing layout - I'll have to get some kitchen tongs as John has advised. The species name "aciculata" comes from the Latin for "covered with small pins (that were used for headdress)".

A last prickly pear John gave is was O. acaulis - didn't get that planted yet. We did place a nice big Agave shawii in a prime spot, and an A. parryi too. Popped some other Opuntias in pots for safekeeping, did some weeding, turned the compost and called it a day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Damp ground

After Friday's rains the soil at P Garden was nice and damp. Perfect for planting and for weeding!

Today's volunteer day had a nice turnout. Leah, Josh, Janet and Anna came by to help out, and we got tons done! It was really heartwarming to look around and see everyone busy in the garden, having a good time.

- Planted 6 Gazanias in the front bed
- Weeded lots of Nasturtiums out
- Planted 6 Iberis under the cherry trees
- Raised the canopies of the cherries by removing low branches so the view of the bench is improved
- Planted a flowering cactus in the cactus wall bed
- Planted a yellow dwarf Canna behind the wong way sign
- Planted orange Alstroemerias ("Third Harmonic") and Irises in the red bed
- Watered
- Planted 2 Arctotis "The Ravers: Unmellow Yellow", a Pennisetum glaucum "Purple Majesty" (Ornamental Millet) and a Pennisetum setaceum "Red Riding Hood" in the left bed
- Saw a Black Phoebe (bird)
- Planted a small tree fern and a Pyrrosia hastata (Felt Fern) from Leah.
- Chatted with the usual stream of visitors to the garden

One of the best things today was discovering that the bottom bin of the worm composter was full of usable worm castings. I used them on almost all the plantings today - I expect those plants will grow like rockets!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dull day

It looked like it was going to rain all day, but didn't. Shame! Our sprinklers have been off for almost a month so aside from a little hand watering on new plantings the garden is making a go of it alone.

Dull light is good for photos though - this morning Matt and I had our breakfast on the bench and I took the pic left, showing (from left) the lovely orange Leonotis leonurus, also known as Lion's Tail, is just starting to bloom. In front of that the Linum grandiflorum "Rubrum" (Scarlet Flax) is still going strong, with a purple Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage) behind it. That's a pretty hot color combo - if we can get some yellow and pink in there I think my eyes will start bleeding!

We had some help from Josh this week - he spent an hour and a half weeding the other day.  One good rain and the weeds spring into action! One good Josh and they have to pipe down ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Agaves in the Pennsylvania Garden

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of guest blog posts, written by people who have helped build the garden. Enjoy!
- Annie

Josh is a resident of Potrero Hill, dog lover, artist and gardener. He has spent countless hours weeding and planting in the garden, and can always be relied upon to be the voice of reason in matters concerning correct and aesthetic plant placement. His articles regularly appear in Pacific Horticulture magazine which is published by the non-profit Pacific Horticultural Foundation, and we're delighted to have his article grace this blog!


A. filifera
As you walk through the Pennsylvania Garden, you can’t help but notice agaves and aloes, since there are some in several of the planting beds. Although they resemble each other, these succulent plants are not even closely related. There are over 700 species of agaves and aloes, which is good news for people who are into succulents. They tend to be very hardy and thrive with little care once established. If you look at the labels for this blog, you’ll see that agaves and aloes have more labels than pretty much everything else- there is a reason for this!

Annie wrote about Aloes in the April 22, 2009 blog entry, so I will focus on the Agaves in the garden.

A. parryi
The Agave family (Agavaceae) includes the agaves, beschornerias, furcreas, yuccas and hesperaloes, among others. The family name comes from the Greek agauos, meaning ‘related to kings and heroes, or noble’. Wow, who knew we had so much royal blood in the garden? The agaves are distinguished by the large spine on the tip of each leaf that most of them possess. Be careful near these plants, or you will add your own blood to the garden… Most of the agaves are monocarpic, which means that they flower once, then die. Luckily for us, most of them send out pups, or baby plants, from their base before they die. Others can only be grown from seeds. The agave’s biggest claim to fame is probably the fact that one species is fermented to make tequila.

A. shawii
Near the entry gate to the garden, you can see Agave filamentosa, also known as Agave filifera, with white filaments curling off of the leaves. This plant hails from Mexico, and sends out lots of pups. (photo top)

Nearby is Agave parryi, (second from top) a pale blue, almost round blob of beauty from Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. These reappear throughout the dry succulent bed behind the storm drain, and up the hill in other beds. Although it is tempting to touch their wonderfully smooth leaves, the dark spines at the leaf tips are amazingly sharp, so best not to pet them.

A. americana variegata
Agave shawii, (third from top) no relation to Annie, is found along the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula into southernmost California. It is a smaller agave, very slow growing, and happiest near the coast far from frosts.

One of the more obvious plants in the garden is the ginormous Agave americana marginata in the center bed (second from bottom). These plants get huge, so if you plant a cute little baby, make sure you give it plenty of room. There are other variegated Agave americana types, such as A. medio picta and A. variegata. They differ mainly in the length of their leaves and the yellow or white stripes on the foliage. There are also a bunch of non-variegated, blue Agave americana plants in the succulent bed and in the back hill near the compost pile.

A. tequilana
Last, but certainly not least, is a longtime favorite for many of us, Agave tequilana (bottom photo). Native to the state of Jalisco in Mexico, it grows in the wild at altitudes over 1500 meters, so it can take some cold weather. Tequila is made from fermenting the core of this plant after growing it for about 10 years. There is one large, and several small, tequila agaves growing in the succulent bed behind the storm drain. Maybe in ten years’ time we will have the courage to hack them apart and make our own tequila? I don’t think so.

A. attenuata
The spineless A. attenuata is shown at left, growing in the middle front bed. Not all shown, but growing at PG or PRG:

A. americana 
A. americana variegata
A. americana "Lemon Lime"
A. americana medio-picta "Alba" 
A. angustifolia 
A. attenuata 
A. attenuata"Nova"
A. attenuata "Ray Of Light" (since stolen)
A. bracteosa 
A. celsii var. albicans "UCB" (since stolen)
A. colorata
A. decipiens
A. desertii
A. desmetiana "Variegata"
A. filifera
A. franzosinii
A.gentryi "Jaws"
A. gypsophila
A. gypsophila
A. havardiana
A."Joe Hoak"
A. lechuguilla
A. lophantha
A. "Mr. Ripple"
A. murpheyi
A. murpheyi "Engard" - Variegated Hohokam Agave
A. ovata
A. parrasana (probably a hybrid of this species)
A. parryi
A. salmiana ssp. crassispina
A. salmiana 'Green Giant'

A. scabra
A. scaposa
A. shawii
A. "Sharkskin"
A. sisiliana  
A. tequilana
A. tequilana "Sunrise"
A. weberi "Arizona Star"
A. weberi "Reiner's selection"
A. vilmoriniana (Octopus Agave)
A. vilmoriniana "Stained Glass"
A. weberi "Reiner's selection"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Clocks fall back

Another great day for getting stuff done. Today we accomplished the following:

Moved a Sedum, a Euphorbia, an Echeveria and two Heucheras

Planted groundcover
Deadheaded Cannas, Buddleja, Helichrysum, Achilleas

Staked a rose using a wonderfully designed stake devised by Robert Poyas, who dropped by for a chat!

Josh, Andrew and Cosmo dropped by for a laugh. Also Leah came by to assess pruning needs, and removed parts of the (about to flower!) Salvia gesneriiflora that were not looking good.

After about 4 hours we went home. Then we dropped by Flowercraft to look at the scratch'n'dent section. Oh dear - lots of goodies there! We managed to get away with the following for just $50:

3 Arctotis "The Ravers: Unmellow Yellow"
3 Ajuga reptans "Golden Glow"
2 Pennisetum glaucum "Purple majesty" (Ornamental Millet)
2 Pennisetum setaceum "Red Riding Hood"
2 Canna x g. :Yellow Futurity Dwarf"
6 Iberis sempervirens (Candytuft)
6 Gazania rigens "Daybreak Pink Series"
1 Argyranthemum frutescens "Sunlight" (Marguerite Daisy)

Photos show view of the left bed from the arch (top) and some cheerful Gazanias in the front bed (bottom)
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