Sunday, January 31, 2010

Daffodil sighted!

The heavy rains of the last couple weeks are over for a while - I think we were supposed to get 8" and it felt like that happened.

Matt and I went out briefly to do some work. Here's what we got accomplished:

We planted an Octopus Agave (A. vilmoriniana) that John gave us (naughty John... you should have kept it!) on the cactus wall. We removed a somewhat ordinary Opuntia, a Crassula ovata (Jade Plant) and a regular blue Agave americana to make room - when this one gets big it will have a primo spot now, and I'm excited to add some new Agave species to the garden.

We placed an Opuntia subulata (Cane Cholla) behind the Octopus Agave for some vertical action, and pulled a Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblongata  to the front of the bed to fill in there. Before and after pics above. Try to imagine the Agave much, much bigger...

We also swapped out two plants in the left bed: a Dodonaea viscosa (Purple Hopseed Bush) and a Euonymus "Emerald 'N' Gold" - the taller one into the middle of the bed, the shorter to the front. Then I planted two Yellow-flowering Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) "Hello Yellow" in the left bed.

Finally we weeded around the Aloes in the left bed at the bottom of the steps.They're flowering now, and look great, even though they are small!

Oh, and the first daffodil is flowering! Yay! :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Street Parks Workshop

Today I went to the San Francisco Parks Trust Street Parks Workshop. This is put on by DPW and SFPT  about every 6 months - this one was about how to get grants. And boy howdy - I could be getting some grants! I'm going to take Emily up on her offer to help write some proposals, and look you people can forward to some serious hardscape improvements at P. Garden in the next year or so!

Later, the participants went to several street parks for a tour, including P. Garden where I gave a short talk and did some Q & A. The gardens we visited were (pics from top to bottom) FARM by the CCA students, Showcase Square (Pavement to Parks installation) (Potrero Hill), Mayflower Garden (Bernal Heights) and Quesada Garden (Outer Mission).

They were all very different but all had two things in common - they were gorgeous, and had been the result of a huge amount of community work to get them done. Actually, that was the main message I got from this workshop - these gardens are less about plants and more about building a sense of community. Important work in a city whose population turnover is so amazingly high: one statistic I wrote down was that 56% of San Franciscans have left the city since 1991.

Building a sense of community reduces crime - if you know everyone on your block and their habits, unusual activity stands out. Simple as that.

I also met Mohammed Nuru who is deputy director of the Department of Public Works, and apparently the man who makes things happen when it comes to cleaning up the dirty streets of San Francisco. He'd heard from Julia and Sandra from DPW about my plan to clean up the first block on Pennsylvania Ave and he is going to help me make it happen! This, they tell me, is as good as having the job finished already. Can you imagine - sidewalks and a pothole free street, with plantings at the side? No more illegal dumping and tagging? I'm really thrilled!

After all that fun, I went to pick up some branches from Audrey and Joseph for the garden (thanks!) and delivered the branches to the garden. I pruned the Gaillardias in the front bed, moved three Arctotis "Unmellow Yellow" to the front bed and generally tidied it up for winter.

I also chatted with Maille, Eddy and their pug Ruby, Jim and his dog Kelly, Max (enjoying a newspaper on the bench) and Kylie and her cute son (thanks fo the donation!!!). I also had a nice chat with Garret, Jessica and their dog Olive who wondered what I was up to as I looked at the weeds down on the Center Hardware Strip garden. Maybe they'll become Street Park Stewards too!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Got gloves?

I go through a fair few pairs of gardening gloves, as I am sure you can imagine. Carrie gave me a beautiful pair of Smith & Hawken rose pruning gloves that are far to nice for the everyday sort of grubbing about I do, so I save them strictly for rose pruning, and posing for Better Homes and Gardens photoshoots and the like.*

I also have some thicker leather gloves for handling cacti - I could really use two pairs on top of each other as the spines can get through one thickness of leather all too easily. Perhaps I will get some welder's gauntlets one day.

The gloves I always reach for for everyday gardening though are nitrile coated nylon gloves. They're thin enough that you can feel a weed stem to pull it out, fit close enough so delicate tasks are easy, and waterproof on the palms yet breathable on the backs of the hands so you don't get all sweaty. I can't say enough good things about them! I also use them at the barn for horsey activities - I'm sure their uses are endless.

I recently got a 12 pack of these gloves from and the price per pair works out to just $4.33, with free shipping! Considering they normally cost about $7/pair this is a fantastic deal, and means I'm unlikely to run out any time soon. Hurrah for lots of gloves, and thanks to CSN Stores!

* This is not true. I have never done a Better Homes and Gardens photoshoot.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plant profile: Kalanchoe tomentosa

Dino and Jason gave us our lovely specimen of this plant, so cute and fuzzy that I want to pet it every time I see it. "Tomentosa" means "wooly," and the plant is indeed velvety to the touch. "Kalanchoe" could mean anything, but it's one of those tricky to pronounce genera I used to mumble when people asked about it. Kallan-KO? KALLAN-cho? Ka-LANCH-o? KAL-an-sho? Finally I figured it out - future embarassment averted!
Latin name: Kalanchoe tomentosa ("ka-LAN-ko-eee toe-men-TOE-sah")
Common name: Panda Ears, Pussy's Ear
Originally from: Southern Madagascar
Blooms: Very rarely – ours is about to bloom now!
Light: Full sun.
Water: Nothing extra required - seasonal rain will do.
Where to see in P. Garden: We have a large specimen in the center back bed.

Regular Panda Ears (like ours) has mostly silvery-white fuzz all over the leaves that makes them appear grey to blue-green, with only a few dots of brown at the slightly serrated tips of each leaf. The cultivar “Chocolate Soldier” has much more brown all around the edges. It also grows a bit faster than the plain form, with more of a clumping habit. Its individual leaves are thinner and longer than for some of the Panda Ears cultivars. Another cultivar is “Golden Girl” with golden yellow leaves.

However, none of them really look like panda ears or cat ears – see illustrative panda, above! In fact they don't look like cat ears either. Maybe dwarf rabbit ears? Fuzzy slugs? I doubt you'd make a lot of money selling a plant called Fuzzy Slugs, it's true...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New plants

Today I went to San Mateo to the community garden plot of Dani. She donated several big clumps of irises and a Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) to the garden. Thanks Dani!

I got back to the garden and planted the sage, and started work on adding border edging to the brick path, and widening it (again) so the dog poop trash can is hopefully able to fit down it easily. I hope that helps Jim and Carrie who kindly donated the use of the can! I found two more piles of poop, one bagged and dumped in a border, though. There are plenty of bags and a receptacle, so why people need to leave poop everywhere is beyond me.

In between my work I chatted with Joe who set up "The Benches" - a garden at 18th and San Bruno that I can't wait to go visit. Also Brad came over with many plants from his roof deck! I'll need to catalog them and figure out what goes where tomorrow - thanks Brad!!!

UPDATE: Emily went out and planted all the irises! She removed some Dietes from the red bed too - they're going to become edgers in the new strip garden down the street.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Our address

Recently someone asked me the address of the garden. I had to think about that for a minute - it's a freeway offramp! However, I went to Google Maps and typed in numbers until I got the addess that will show you the garden in you go to the street view: 265 Pennsylvania Ave, San Francisco CA.

Anyway, if you want to visit the garden go there (or just stop by Pennsylvania at Mariposa, and look downhill!). Perhaps we need some stylish house numbers affixed to the arch? Would that mean we'd start getting mail? Would the mail person stuff the letters between the leaves of the extremely spiky Agave at the gate? And if so, how would we get them out?

Please, don't send mail!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plant profiles - what next?

I usually write one plant profile per week, choosing a plant that's either in flower att he time of writing, or otherwise "popular" (mentioned often in the blog.)

However, I'd love to get some feedback: are there any plants YOU want to know more about? Any plants you have seen int he garden and wondered "What is that?"

Let me know - put a comment below!

(Flower at left is an Aloe - surrounded by weeds!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pruning time is upon us

I have discovered that almost as much as I love planting and growing plants, cutting back and tidying plants comes a close second. Call me a control freak if you will, but it's Very Satisfying to give a plant a haircut!

Yesterday Emily sent me her notes from a Flora Grubb lecture she attended about pruning plants in our area, and despite having blisters on my hands from a morning spent edging the sidewalk area, I jumped at the first dry spell that afternoon and went out and pruned the African Blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal') right down, and my first ever roses! We have three - two standard and one bushy one, and I carefully applied the multiple rules of rose pruning to each cane on each rose.

1. Clear excess mulch and leaves from around the base of the plant. Say a prayer.
2. Cut out any brown, stripy wood - you only want green canes.
3. Pull out any suckers that grow from below the soil.
4. Cut  out any canes that cross.
5. Cut each green cane back by 1/3.
6. Make cuts above an outward facing leaf node, at the perfect angle and distance.
7. Aim for a vase shape, with the center hollow.
8. When you are done, the rose will look like you massacerd it - all that will be left are perhaps half a dozen miserable sticks, and not a single leaf or flower. Go now and drink some tea - you will feel better in the Spring.

You can see a before and after of the yellow standard rose, left. I also restaked it. I think this looks really drastic but they say roses are extremely tough, so hopefully they will come back with renewed vigor soon! And with less black spot and mildew and aphids and... Yeesh! Roses are the only thing in the garden that gets sprayed with chemicals and requires so much work!

I also met Sean and Jenny who live locally and have their own succulent garden. Nice!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Torrential rain

We are supposed to get 8-9 inches of rain this week. If you live in the Bay area and you didn't know about the big storm, I recommend you stop reading this and go out and batten down your hatches right now!

Matt likes to walk around on "storm patrol" in the rain (product of being raised in a dry place I suppose!) so after I was suitably fortified by a large breakfast at Just For You we went by the garden. Caltrans has asked me to make sure the storm drain stays unclogged, and I cleaned out most of it a couple of weeks ago. However, as anyone who knows the garden will tell you, very little water actually gets into the storm drain in a storm (see left) as all the plants and mulch uphill suck it up before it trickles down into the drain. It's just kind of a pain really.

And so it was today: I moved a wheelbarrow full of muck from the drain as a torrential downpour was ending, more because I was cold than due to fear of flooding. Naturally the rain stopped and the sun came out and the water's almost gone already!

Suitably sweaty by then, I moved on to the edging project. Yesterday we put in 10 pavers, today I did another 20 or so. I also moved more Gazanias to the front, in alternating colors, and trimmed back some Gaillardias and so on, and finally left when my muscles just gave up!

My plan is to edge the entire sidewalk in Gazanias, move some Gaillardias further back, and put some mid-height, bushy perennial flowers in between to stop Gaillardia flop this year. I am thinking something like Arctotis and Salvias in various hot pinks and purples, and maybe some clumps of day lilies  and so on.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Corn marigolds on probation

In case you didn't already know, sign language for Pennsylvania Garden is shown at left, demonstrated by Denise. From top to bottom: P. A. Garden! How cool is that? She demoed this last night while we were weeding the strip garden, and her pals Eli and Alex came by to help.

It rained today and we're due for a massive storm this week. So naturally I frittered away most of the day doing household chores but eventually Matt and I made it out to the garden for a couple of hours of hard manual labor.

We started by stripping corn marigolds from the kerb edge of the front bed. Vigorous little buggers they may be, but they were suffocating my little Gazanias and we can't have that. Next Matt started placing the edging pavers John gave us along the front, while I rearranged the Gazanias near the front. We got 10 pavers and a dozen Gazanias done and it looks quite neat - I am hoping the heavy rains will wash the sidewalk clean of all the dirt I couldn't sweep away ;) Another 20 pavers and we'll be done - and we'll have quite a few left over too!

Matt also planted an Argyranthemum frutescens (Marguerite Daisy) in the left bed, as well as a Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina). He also found two Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima)
clumps hidden under other plants and relocated them to better spots, and weeded up around the bench.

Matt also managed to prune down the crazy blue Aster "Bill's Big Blue" which was done flowering and busily seeding and making replicas of it's insane self everywhere. Ack! If I died tomorrow the garden would become one big corn marigold/blue aster infested disaster zone overnight!

Strip stripped!

Last May we planted sunflowers on a strip of land opposite Center Hardware - down the block from P. Garden. The sunflowers looked pretty good for a while but needed water and in the end, they're just annuals anyway.

I thought this area needed some tough, low maintenance perennials. I enlisted the help of two great gardeners (Emily and Denise) to help me with the project too, as I thought they might really enjoy it. We discussed plans and plants, and I send off a street parks applicaton and planting plan to DPW, who reposonded very favorably!

I asked DPW and Caltrans who owned the broken fence behind the strip, and Caltrans said it was theirs but they have no plans to fix it. We will just ignore the hole in it!

Last in the planning was materials. I figured that since Center Hardware will benefit from the view of the plants, we might hit them up for a donation. I went over and met with Brandon from Center and he authorised $100 in store credit for the project! WOW! Thanks - this means we can get compost and maybe make a little fence around the plants to protect them.

So now it the time to get planting - we have rain! Yesterday Emily, Denise and I ripped the sunflowers out, and a whole lot of weeds too. We got help from Eli and Alex too! It took about 2 hours and we stopped when it got dark. Still a bit more to go, but the dirt there has improved greatly thanks to the 4 bags of compost and loads of mulch I added last May, and the weeded parts look fantastic and clean.

Pics in this post are by Emily. Next up: getting plants, and planting them!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A new garden!

A new garden opens tomorrow in the neighborhood! Check it out:

Martin Luther King Volunteer Service Weekend is almost upon us, and there is a new community garden in the neighborhood, and there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony, and a small work day this Saturday at 11am.

The garden is located at "The Benches" 18th St and San Bruno Ave. This garden will be a public garden, and will follow similar rules and guidelines as other community gardens in San Francisco.

As some of you may remember, we cleaned up this lot, and painted the fence green one year ago, on Martin Luther King Day.

Joe Treinen has offered to volunteer as community garden coordinator. There is opportunity for all of you, as community members to be founding members of this new community garden.

If you would like a plot at this garden (or just to help out), please email BenchesGarden at and come to the event on Saturday, at 11am. Please, bring your work gloves, as we will be doing some final painting and sprucing up of this area.

Sounds lovely - I'll be out of town most fo the day but I'm going to stop by as soon as I can to see this spot!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Plant profile: Chasmanthe

C. floribunda
I originally thought the Chasmanthes at P. garden were Crocosmias. We do have Crocosmias, but when the Chasmanthes flowered, an astute blog follower pointed out my mistake. Shame on me! What can I say? The corms that both genera grow from look just the same... ho hum.

Latin name: Chasmanthe floribunda  ("chas-MAN-thee flor-ah-BUN-dah")
Common name: Cobra Lily, African Flag, African Cornflag
Originally from: South Africa
Blooms: January through March.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain only.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 4-5' tall. Each bulb's leaves are just a 6" wide bunch, but the clumps grow quickly.
USDA Zone: 9-10b
Where to see in P. Garden: Clumps of this lovely plant are flowering now in the brights bed and left bed in various spots.

C. floribunda var. duckittii
This graceful plant is in the crocus family, and there are three species in the genus, of which we have two varieties of one species, the orange Chasmanthe floribunda and the yellow Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii.

In their native habitat the flowers are pollinated by sunbirds. Here at P. garden they get plenty of attention from hummingbirds. They seed pretty readily, and new clumps are always popping up when the rains start which is lovely.

They are winter growers - the green sword-like leaves show up in December, flowers start arriving in January or  February, and they are all done by April. We usually cut all the leaves back in August. Actually that should have tipped me off that they were not Crocosmias, which perform on an opposite schedule.  Come to think of it, I wonder if anyone has ever mixed the two bulbs together in a bed so that when one is dying the other is sprouting? Nonstop flowers, or a big mess?

Street Park Stewards: save the date!

If you are, like me, an official San Francisco Street Park Steward, or are interested in becoming one (they give you free a machete and 1,000 pounds of horse manure to get you started!*), read the message below sent to me by lovely Julia at SFPT:

As part of the Street Parks program, you have the opportunity to participate in two free and very practical workshops each year to assist you in reaching your greening goals.

Please mark your calendars and save the date for our next Street Parks Workshop, to be held on Saturday, January 30th, from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco . Please let other committed volunteers in your street parks group know about this upcoming workshop so they can save the date as well and plan to join us.

Read more here! Linky.

I'll be attending. In fact, I have to - P. Garden is on the list of places the attendees will visit for a short meet'n'greet/site demonstration after that talks in the morning. Woot!

* This is not true. Sorry.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emily strikes again!

While I was off gadding about looking at horses at the weekend, Emily was in the garden working! Here's what she did:

1. plant the Dahlias in the red bed
2. add more red Ranunculus and red anemone to the frontside of the red bed
3. add yellow Ranunculus around the columbine
4. add yellow Ranunculus around the knautia macedonia
5. transplant an Arctotis to the sidewalk bed on the path side
6. add compost/vermiculite to the upper succulent slope bed, moved the ground cover (Ajuga) to a better spot, and put in more blue anemone.
7. confirmed the ranunculus from before is sprouting leaves!!!!!!

I can't wait to see all her additions flowering - these are plants I've never grown so they all seem very new and exciting to me!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Absent, but still...

This weekend I didn't see the garden once - for the first time in over a year (vacations aside) because I was driving around looking at horses for sale. My other hobby, if you can imagine me having time for one!

However, two garden-related things did happen.

For starters, I got my first copy of the glossy West-coast gardening magazine Pacifica Horticulture in the mail, courtesy of my parents (Happy Holidays to me!) This alone was a treat, as it's a great read for plant lovers, with fantastic photography.

Secondly, I got an email from Gary's brother, Steve, congratulating me on (drumroll please) an article about P. garden that has appeared in that fine publication! I admit this is not a total surprise because our very own Josh wrote the article, and tipped me off a while back, and naturally I turned to that article immediately when I got the mag. But what was amazing was the lovely photos he added to the article which make the garden look so good. You'll have to order a copy (or subscribe!) to read the full story and see the pics, but an excerpt is at the link above.

Thanks Josh, and Pacific Horticulture!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Plant profile: Gazania

This genus was first formally described by German botanist Joseph Gaertner in the second volume of his major work De Fructibus et Seminibus Plantarum in 1791. Gaertner named the genus after Theodorus Gaza, a 15th-century translator of the works of Theophrastus.

Popular in the 1960s, the bright flowers and drought tolerant nature of this plant made it ubiquitous in warm, dry areas. And it’s experiencing a revival, with all sorts of new colors having been cultivated. They’re easily available at your local Home Despot, and fall in the cheap’n’cheerful category. I’ve grown some from seed, bought many in 6 packs and 4” pots, and many more in flats. I even have one I paid $10 for in a gallon pot – what can I say: it has silvery leaves and a gorgeous orange flower. (photo top left)

Latin name: Gazania ("gah-ZAY-nee-ah")
Common name: Gazania
Originally from: Southern Africa.
Blooms: All shades of red orange, yellow, white and pink. Not scented but often striped, the flowers only open when the sun comes out – on a dull day, they stay shut.
Light: Full sun
Water: Drought tolerant – in fact they dislike summer water!
Where to see in P. Garden: All along the sidewalk edge are various Gazanias, and a few red ones are scattered in the red bed.

Gazanias are most often seen in two types. Trailing Gazania (Gazania rigens var. leucolaena), which we don't have (yet) is commonly used as groundcover and can be planted en masse to cover large areas quickly.

Another popular cultivated variety is the Clumping Gazania (Gazania rigens) which is the one we have.
I’ll be editing the Gazanias at P. Garden as they flower, grouping the brights and the pastels, and hopefully rounding up some yellow ones for the left bed. You can never have too much African sunshine!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!

Matt and I went to Southern California on a road trip over the holidays and saw many great cacti and succulents. It was heaven! Needless to say we brought a few home too.

Today we went out and planted some of our haul: an Agave attenuata, an unidentified Aloe, an Agave that might be A. gentryi, and my prize plant from So Cal: a Baja Ocotillo (Fouquieria peninsularis)! I put the latter in a hot, dry place on the cactus wall, left, (relegated a Crassula tetragona  and a C. ovata to the back slope) and will keep my fingers and toes crossed that it is happy there.

While we were away, I was thrilled to get an email from lovely John, who had found some free edging pavers on craigslist. And not only that, but just to prove how lovely he is, he went and got the (rather heavy)  pavers and stacked them up in the garden. He even made a smiley face on top!

Getting the pavers fulfills a desire for neat edging I've had for a while - I think the next volunteer day we can all put them in together. Which leads me to ponder other New Year's resolutions and plans. Here's my list so far:

1. Get a community challenge grant from SFPT. Use that money to pay for materials for...
2. A handrail for the steps, and
3. Shoring up the base of the steps area and storm drain, and
4. An information kiosk for the front of the garden,  and
5. Some more solid edging/fencing/large end rocks for some of the beds that are prone to a lot of wear and tear from hoses, passers by and dogs.
6. Reorganize the back slope so that it has real terraces and you can walk on them, adding extra mileage to the pathways.
7. Make real steps in the back area so access to the compost heaps is better.
8. Set up the Pacific tree frog habitat with Gary and Jack's help.
9.  Secure the tool cabinet better.
10. Swap out some of the more common species of plants for more unusual ones, where appropriate.
11. Encourage more people, pets and wildlife to visit the garden, join in, and feel they are a part of it all!

OK,  better stop before the list gets to be too big for 2010!

What are your garden plans for the year?
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