Saturday, December 26, 2009

Plant profile: Zantedeschia

The eight species of Calla lily have the distinctive funnel-like flower shape we all know. Painters like Diego Rivera and Georgia O'Keefe got a lot of mileage out of these flowers over the years, and they're certainly an elegant look.

Latin name: Zantedeschia ("zan-teh-DESH-ee-ah")
Common name: Calla Lily, Easter lily, Arum lily
Originally from: Southern Africa from South Africa north to Malawi.
Blooms: White flowers start in late fall and go on through spring. Other species come in yellow, pink, orange, red, burgundy and shades in between.
Light: Full sun to light shade.
Water: Drought tolerant! They go dormant in summer when there's no water, but will stay green year round if you keep them moist.
Where to see in P. Garden: Flowering right now, at the bottom of the steps.

The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773-1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766 - 1833). We have Zantedeschia aethiopica in the garden - the usual white version. I'd like to get some other colored ones sometime too.

It has been cultivated for the Easter floral trade since the early 20th century; hence the (ambiguous) name 'Easter lily', common in Britain and Ireland. It has become an important symbol of Irish Republicanism since the Easter uprising of 1916.

UPDATE June 2016:
These guys have seeded around a bit and now we have two massive clumps that are just starting to die back for the season. We don't have enough dampness to keep them green year round, but they are well worth it for the oodles of flowers they put out from December until June.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Hope you are enjoying a cosy and peaceful holiday. If you're in the area, drop by P. Garden and bring a flask of something warm. Have a seat on the bench and relax for a bit. Aaaahhhh...

Dress warm though - we had 2' of snow in P. Garden overnight! Check it out in the photo, left!!!!!*

*Just kidding ;)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Now is a good time of year for transplanting, so I went out and moved two Kniphofias and a Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos) out from under the big, variegated Echium in the front middle bed. Just one Opuntia cactus to go...

I also moved a wheelbarrow full of muck from the storm drain, and weeded the cactus wall. Had a short chat with Gary, watered a couple things, and that was all for the day.

Photo shows (clockwise from bottom left) Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus), Pennisetum setaceum "Rubrum", Artemesia "Powis Castle", and a yellow Osteospermum.

Plant profile: Euphorbia

Where to begin with Euphorbias? They come in such an amazing array of types that you wouldn't believe they were related! Everything from small trees to cacti to your holiday poinsettia. Annuals and perennials. All sorts. According to Wikipedia "The genus Euphorbia is one of the largest and most complex genera of flowering plants and several botanists have made unsuccessful attempts to subdivide the genus into numerous smaller genera. According to the recent phylogenetic studies, Euphorbia can be divided into 4 subgenera, each containing several not yet sufficiently studied sections and groups."

What all that means is I'm going to cover quite a few different plants here - we have about 10 or more of the 2,160 species available in P. Garden. One thing they do have in common is a caustic, poisonous milky sap (latex) containing terpen ester resiniferatoxin. In contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) the latex can produce extremely painful inflammation. In experiments with animals it was found that the terpen ester resiniferatoxin had an irritating effect 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than capsaicin, the "hot" substance found in chillies.

Yep, once again - don't touch or eat the plants, and keep your pets out of the borders!

Latin name: Euphorbia ("you-FORB-ee-ah")
Common name: Spurge
Originally from:  Tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and the Americas, but also in temperate zones worldwide. Succulent species originate mostly from Africa, the Americas and Madagascar.
Blooms: They're more of a foliage plant. Flowers are not usually very showy.
Light: Full sun to light shade.

Water: Drought tolerant! For the most part, the only problem we have had with them is giving them too much water by mistake.
Where to see in P. Garden: Well, we have a lot of them! Photos from the top:
Euphorbia polychroma "Blackbird" (Cushion Spurge) - left bed.
Euphorbia (what sort? Tall, thin type...) - cactus wall.
Euphorbia mellifera (Honey Spurge)
Several Euphorbia cacti in the cactus wall bed.
Euphorbia rigida - middle front bed. (Donkey Tail)

Also in the garden, but not shown:
Euphorbia myrsinites is right in front of the big variegated Agave - middle of the garden when you enter via the arch.
Euphorbia tirucalli "Sticks on Fire" (Red Pencil Tree) to the left of that.
Euphorbia lambii (Tree Euphorbia) - middle back bed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


On and off showers have led to fairly damp ground at the garden: makes weeding easier. So yesterday I went out and realized I needed some coffee before the weeding began. I cut a few Gaillardias and sage flowers that are going to be cut back soon anyway, and took a bunch up to Farley's. They have been pretty decent to me this year, so why not! And I got a free coffee in return. Well alright!

Then I saw Rick back at the garden, weeding the lavender hedge area. We had a chat about damage to the hedge and noticed there's a lot of dog poop up there. I have a lot of plastic bags to add to the dispenser up there - hope that helps.

I got pretty wet weeding and pruning... after a while it stopped being fun so I went indoors.

Then I went by Audrey's place as she had some plants for me! Today I planted the Chasmanthe and Amaryllis belladonna bulbs she and her husband Joseph donated to the garden.  I also deadheaded some Cannas, moved an Achillea and an Agave attenuata to better places (left), and weeded some more.

I shovelled a wheelbarrow full of muck from the storm drain to the bigger compost heap, and shovelled some compost from the bottom to the top of the round plastic bin (looks great!).

Then I potted up three Opuntia cuttings and planted another, and chatted with Adolfo, Alison and Gary separately.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter tidying

Today we spent an hour doodling around doing a few things:

- Planted 1 Yucca, a Senecio and a Crassula by the toolshed - reorganized and weeded there too.
- Sprinkled 2 packets of Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) by the cherry trees.
- Cut back a lot of Cannas, a couple Sedums and a lot of yarrows (Achillea)

It was sunny out, and the ground was damp, so the weeding was easy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Plant profile: Leonotis leonorus

Leonotis leonurus is in the genus Leonotis which consists of about 40 species of plants. Aside from that, there's not a lot to be found out about the plant online, nor have I seen them available for sale locally. It's such a striking plant that I find this odd; perhaps it has some evil tendencies that I'm not aware of.... yet.

Latin name: Leonotis leonurus
Common name: Lion's Tail, Wild Dagga
Originally from: All but one species, Leonotis nepetifolia (native to both tropical Africa and southern India), are native to southern Africa.
Blooms: Covered in frills of orange tubular flowers. It's quite a sight!
Light: Full sun to light shade
Water: Drought tolerant!
Zone: 8 to 11
 Where to see in P. Garden: We have one in the middle back bed, and one in the brights bed.

The most common use for the plant utilizes the picked and dried leaves brewed as a tea, which is said to be quite relaxing. One experimental study suggested that "the aqueous leaf extract of L. leonurus possesses antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties; thus lending pharmacological credence to folk usage of the herb in the management and/or control of painful, arthritic, and other inflammatory conditions, as well as for adult-onset, type-2 diabetes mellitus in some communities of South Africa."

This plant is a big hit with hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and is fast growing and is frost hardy. Ours went from a little rooted cutting Leah gave us back in Spring to a 5' tall and 4' wide clump in one season! I'll be moving ours a bit further back in the bed at some point, at which time I hope to divide it - they do get quite tall. Plants should be cut right back at the end of winter - ours is still flowering away madly in December so it will be a while before this gets a haircut.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's raining seeds and bulbs!

I went out yesterday and planted some bulbs and seeds, as follows:

40 Narcissus (Daffodils) "Ice Follies" (left bed)
20 Narcissus "Dutch Master" (left bed)
1 packet Baileya multiradiata (Desert Marigold) (lavender hedge)
1 packet Layia platyglossa (Tidy Tips) (left bed and lavender hedge)
1 packet Gazania rigens (Gazania) (next to Wrong Way sign)

I still have 5 packets of poppies and a slew of other species to plant because Now Is The Time to do that.

The ground under the mulch is still dusty and dry. I'll have to try and get out there and look like an idiot, watering in the rain....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

He hasn't croaked yet! And other godawful puns...

It has been brought to my attention by an inside source that another birthday is upon us. Yes, Gary of Brickley Production Services has just turned 21 again. Here he is looking delighted (left). Happy birthday Gary!

It is unlikely that you will appreciate the significance of the balloon he's holding, but if you look closely you'll see it has a frog on it. I can reveal to you now that P. Garden will soon be welcoming a colony of frogs to live among us! My friend Jack is a keen amphibian-liker and suggested adding a few Pacific Tree Frogs to the garden. I quite liked the idea of little frogs chirping in the bushes, and since this species is rare within San Francisco proper, it only seemed right to have them. I was a tad hesitant about their needs, but Gary found out and got all excited about the froggy business. He has agreed to be the frog ambassador and will be writing a little piece or two about them when the time comes.

So yay for Gary and yay for his impending army of frogs. Yes, that's right - the collective noun for frogs is an army. Or a colony, or a knot. But I like army.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Parks & Rec

Yesterday I had a visit from Julia from SFPT. She wanted to see what I was up to, since SFPT is a nonprofit organization that has some sort of mystical relationship with DPW, who have taken out the encroachment permit with Caltrans for me. It's a bizarre love triangle, with me in the middle, encroaching away as fast as I can before anyone notices.

Julia was very nice, and had all sorts of suggestions for grants I might get (woot!) and so on. She was very encouraging about the garden indeed, so I dragged her down to the strip of land opposite Center Hardware where I planted some star-crossed sunflowers last May.

I have been trying to get someone to admit they own this little strip for a while now, so that I can then harass them into fixing the fence that has a giant hole in it. Once the fence is fixed, I can plant that area with proper, drought tolerant plants, and already have got two energetic urban gardeners (Denise and Emily) interested in doing this little project with me. We have already planned some seriously drought tolerant plantings, and have begun amassing plants.

(I was showing Julia the hole it dawned on me that I am Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) from the TV show Parks & Recreation and Sandra from DPW is Leslie Knope.  This trivial parallel only enhanced by the hole and the desire to make a little park where it is!)

Anyway, I think this is going to happen.Progress and encouragement. It's all good.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chilly, it is

Well the big rain forecast for today was once again a bit disappointing. I'm really glad I soaked some areas of the garden at the weekend because that sort of rain doesn't penetrate the mulch at all. Boo!

I went to the garden at lunchtime to fix the twig border (left) near the bench, which had got all ratty. I used Kepa's branches and managed to get it done in 15 mins while at the same time (sort of) holding a conversation with Gina! I saw Gary and Annelle too but couldn't stop to chat - I was on a mission!

Later on Emily went by and busted out some plants she snagged from Annie's Annuals, as well as some compost. We had talked about her garden being a bit shady, so I told her she could add some of her favorites to sunny P. Garden. I am going to post her email to me because, well, I'm lazy and I'm enjoying a glass of Lambrusco by the fire.

"So I planted all of the things pictured, and spread a bunch of compost in the top part of the succulent slope (the big empty spot). When I put in the Knautia macedonia I found a bunch of daffodil bulbs lining that area. I also found one that was buried so deep it had a good 3 inches of white top still way below the soil. I dug it out and put it next to the Knautia. It kinda works out, because the Knautia will get nice floppy foliage that will cover the daffodils when they die back in the summer, and the Knautia starts doing a ton of burgundy flowers. I dug out the rattier looking chard and put the Columbine (Aquilegia) in its place. Surprisingly everywhere I dug was only damp a few inches down, so I will go back later this week and water everything. The close up of the Pam's Choice petiole shows the purple spots - how cool! : )

The new twig barrier looks awesome, I took photos of it."

How about that then? I can't wait to see all the fruits of Emily's labor flowering away in the garden. And to top it all off she took at the pics for today's post. Thanks Emily! I am going to lazily go back to my Lambrusco and toast all your hard work ;)

Here's the final tally, photos top to bottom, left to right:

Glaucium species (Horned Poppy) "Iran" - bench and Emily's cute dog in the background.
Aquilegia chrysantha (Columbine) "Yellow Queen" in the left bed.
Knautia macedonica in the red bed.

Penstemon hartwegii "Tubular Bells Red"
Digitalis (Foxglove) "Pam's Choice" near the steps

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Pennsylvania Garden!

Emily, Josh, Matt and Bonnie joined me in the garden today, and we enjoyed a little pizza (thanks Matt!) and a little gardening. Gary and Carrie were by too - Gary has plans for the side of his building, and Carrie made a great contribution (below)!

- Planted several Alstroemeria "Third Harmonic" in the red bed, and an Arctotis "The Ravers: Unmellow Yellow" in the left bed
- Planted some Aloes and various succulents in the succulent slope
- Moved some Phormiums around
- Planted a Verbascum olympicum in the left bed
- Carrie added a city wheelie bin for dog poop (thus making emptying much easier - THANKS Carrie!)
- Emily planted a slew of bulbs and seeds she brought:
Plants: Anemone "Blue",  Anemone coronaria '"His Excellency" (red), Ranunculus tecolete "Red"
Seeds: Delphinium 'Black Knight", Nicotiana '"Tinkerbell"
- Watered some areas in advance of the rains due next week: got to get the ground damp so the rain will penetrate the mulch.
- Deadheaded some Cannas
- Moved the big pile of orange tree branches left for us by Jo (Thanks Jo!)

It was really fun. I couldn't have imagined such a great group of friends working on the garden when it all started last year: I really though it would just be a few plants and nothing else. Just goes to show - when you keep your expectations nice and low, anything can happen ;)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Birthday coming up!

Pennsylvania Garden will be one year old on December the 7th!

I am planning to visit the SFBG's half off plant sale on Saturday December 5th, just as I did last year, to get plants for the garden.

Do you want to celebrate with me? Come to the garden on Saturday for our regularly scheduled monthly volunteer day (11am-1pm) and help me plant a few plants, weed out a few weeds, and enjoy the garden!

If you happen to go by Home Despot this week, remember they have a half off bulb sale going on - grab a bag for the garden too! We love bulbs, and you will too when you see how they look in February :)

Yesterday, Emily went to the garden and planted a couple things:

- Planted a magenta pink Cistus x pulverulentus (Rock Rose "Sunset") in front of the Phormium in the back side of the red bed.
- Planted a line of white flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) in line with the (hopefully) white ginger near the bench. (Wait til the both flower - what a perfume!)
- Distributed the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) seedlings in a line behind the Yucca by the steps.

This morning I went by and watered them in. Looking good, Emily! :) Also noticed that Jo had left me some orange branches for the garden - wonderful! Photo above shows our orange Crocosmias flowering for the first time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plant profile: Brugmansia

Brugmansia is a genus of seven species of flowering plants in the family Solanaceae (the potato family). Their common name, Angel’s Trumpet, is also given to the Datura – a related but different genus. How can you tell them apart? In general, Brugmansia flowers dangle down, whereas Datura flowers point upwards.

Latin name: Brugmansia (pronounced broog-MAN-see-ah)
Common name: Angel’s Trumpet, Datura (incorrect)
Originally from: Subtropical regions of South America, along the Andes from Colombia to northern Chile, and also in southeastern Brazil.
Blooms: Big, trumpet-shaped white, yellow, red or pink flowers dangle down, flowering almost constantly, and often richly scented depending on the species.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant once established but not xeric.
Height x width: 8'x10'
Zones: 7b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed, in front of the cherry plum trees.

The name Brugmansia comes from Sebald Justin Brugmans (1763-1819), a Dutch professor of natural history.

These long-lived, woody trees or bushes produce masses of usually super-exotic flowers, and are fast-growers and heavy feeders, needing to be fertilized regularly during the growing season. Our “Brug” is a double-flowered white version of unknown name. It was bought as a 1 gallon plant in March ’09 and it’s now an 8’ tall monster, about 10’ wide. My plan is to remove the lower branches to make it into a short tree, and allow other plants to grow underneath it.

All parts of the Brugmansia are very toxic, so it’s located a bit further back in the bed. Don’t eat it! A traveller in nineteenth century Peru gave the following description of the effects of psychoactive Brugmansia drink on an Indian man:

"He was seen to be falling into a heavy stupor, his eyes vacantly fixed on the ground, his mouth convulsively closed and his nostrils dilated.

In the course of a quarter of an hour, his eyes began to roll, foam issued from his mouth, and his whole body was agitated by frightful convulsions.

After these violent symptoms had passed, a profound sleep followed for several hours duration and when the subject had recovered, he related the particulars of his visit with his dead ancestors. He appeared very weak and exhausted. "

Among the pre-Conquest Chibcas of Colombia a concoction of Brugmansia, tobacco and maize beer was given to slaves and wives of dead kings in order to put them in a deep narcotic state so that they could be buried alive with their masters and husbands.

That certainly puts a damper on the visions of sugarplum fairies conjured by the plant’s flowers!

UPDATE: Our bruggie started looking sad in midsummer, wishing for a moister spot. I decided to cut it down and did so in August 2012. A few months later, it sprouted up again! Now in April 2013 it looks great again, but time will tell if it can survive repeated coppicing, or whether we just need to move it to the middle back bed where things are damper.

UPDATE December 2015:
After 6 years in the ground and 4 years of drought, this plant suffered from dryness, was coppiced and returned to form: it's currently covered in leaves after a few rainfalls this winter. Surprisingly resilient plant!
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