Saturday, May 29, 2010

Paradise found!

I have long wanted a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) in the garden, so when I got an email from Matt B, who lives in the neighborhood, that he was removing one from his garden, my ears pricked up! He offered to bring it to the garden this morning, and I was lucky enough to meet him after he dropped it off.

My Matt (Matt P) got to work planting it in the dampest spot in the garden - right by the spigot (see pic). He added a whole bucket of compost from the bin too. Should be a happy little Bird of Paradise there!

I planted an Arctotis "The Ravers: Pumpkin Pie" in front of the wrong way sign (can't have too many pinks, reds and oranges there) and noticed that two other plants had been left at the garden for us: a rosemary and another plant that looks like it sat in the sun too long and probably isn't going to make it. :( Note to donors: please let me know if you're planning to drop off a plant so I can get it into a safe spot ASAP!

After that, Matt and I drove down to Half Moon Bay to visit the nurseries there. I had some money burning a hole in my pocket that was given to Emily by Sharon - one of The Godmothers - for the Mariposa Center Garden opposite Center Hardware.  I had Emily's wishlist in my hand, and managed to get a few items she wanted, but had to pick others out that should do the same job as the selection wasn't ideal. Here's what I got:

3 Dendromecon rigida (Bush Poppy)
6 Lupinus arboreus (Yellow Bush Lupine)
4 Achillea millefolium "Red Velvet"
6 Achillea millefolium "Terracotta"
5 Cistus "Sunset"
2 Lavatera

I have to say it was wonderful to go plant shopping without having to be extremely picky and stingy, only buying the tiniest size of a plant as I usually have to, and only buying one specimen. I think this collection will make an immediate impact on that spot: thank you Godmthers! I'm going to help Emily plant them on Wednesday night. Do you want to help? Meet us at the strip at 6pm!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plant profile: Verbascum

Latin name: Verbascum  ("ver-BASK-um")
Common name: Mullein
Originally from: Mostly Europe but also Asia.
Blooms: Tall spikes of flowers are usually yellow, but can also be white, pastels shades, blue, purple, red or orange.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed across from the cactus wall we have several: Two Verbascum olympicum, and a Verbascum hybridum "Banana Custard." In the middle back bed we have three Verbascum sp. "Cotswold King."

Most of the plants at P. Garden are perennials - they live many years. We have a few annuals for one-year fill  in jobs too. But biennial plants - what's to love about 'em? Year one, they are small and weedy. Year two they go berserk and look great! Then they die. Pah - one year of amazement but a year of the blahs too... and then a hole in the bed after it dies? It's not worth it.

Or is it?

Let me introduce the Varbascums. About 250 species in the genus, several with a long history of use as a medicine, and treatment for asthma and respiratory disorders. It’s common name is mullein which sounds very old-fashioned to me. The name "mullein" has two possible derivations: It either comes from comes from mollis, which means soft in Latin, or the Latin word mulandrum, which comes from melanders - a disease of cattle this plant was used to treat. Verbascum derives from the word barbascum, which means "with beard." also says:
The leaves also are referred to as bunny’s ears and flannelleaf. The dried down on the leaves and stem ignites readily and once was used for lamp wicks; candlewick plant is another old name. The name hag taper refers to beliefs that a torch made from a mullein stalk dipped in tallow either was used by witches or would repel them. The custom of using mullein stalks as torches (by ordinary folk) dates back at least to Roman times. Jacob’s staff, Jupiter’s staff and Aaron’s rod are references to the tall flower stalk.

Until recently it was somewhat of a weed in some parts of the world. And then in 2000, people started hybridizing the mullein and the genus got a whole new lease on life!

They start out with a rosette of, commonly, silvery-furry leaves with wavy edges (left). In fact you might be tempted to plant the little low-growing thingies at the front of a bed and forget about them, like I did. Sort of like lamb’s ears in a spiral – dizzy lamb plant? Anyway, take your eye off them for a minute (actually a year) and suddenly one day you will notice to your shock and awe that they have grown to be eight feet tall overnight (bottom photo) and covered in yellow flowers! (Top photo.)

Hummingbirds will be bumping into them – that’s how suddenly they come up.  Last week a hummingbird flew up to me, over to the Verbascum that’s flowering now, and back to me, hovering right in front of my face as if to say “Have you seen that thing???”

Although this plant is a recent arrival to North America, Native Americans used the ground seeds of this plant as a paralytic fish poison due to their high levels of rotenone. So need I warn you not to put them in your goldfish bowl? I hope not.

The "Banana Custard" is flowering in the garden right now in the left bed. Check it out!

UPDATE June 2016:
After their 2 years of joy the Verbascums died out.  They were lovely - if we had funds for planting non-perennials I'd get more!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Tonight I went to the Potrero Boosters installation dinner. I felt like it was time to step up and show my face among the neighbors, and there were a lot of friendly faces welcoming Matt and I!

We enjoyed a delicious dinner, applauded the new president (Audrey!), the old one (Tony!)  and committee, and had a good laugh talking to people. Next up came their awards for local folks who've made a difference to the community. Well, you could have knocked me other with a feather - I won "The Green Colored Glasses Award"! Underneath it says "For her creativity in seeing public gardens on Potrero Hill that no one else sees, and her tenacity in making those gardens real."

Aww - shucks! *blush*

Of course you know I didn't do it all alone: if I'd had the mic for a minute I could have given a shout out to all my gardening friends. You know who you are - all you people with your names in bold type on the blog! Thanks. :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Garden tour - done!

I have just spent from 9am to 3.30pm in the garden without a bathroom or lunch break. Ack!

Having said that there was a constant stream of visitors asking questions and enjoying the garden, and I gave as many people as possible a freebie 4" plant and asked them to sign up for the email list.

I also manged to water the entire place, and weeded out that darn nasty weed from the red bed with a good deal of success. Almost nonstop weeding in between chats with tour participants.

Anyway, I'm EXHAUSTED.

 Pic above shows Arctotis and Gazanias looking cheerful, earlier.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The tour is tomorrow

From 10am-3pm you can tour the hidden gems of Potrero Hill's private gardens! Get your tickets now (click here) and see you tomorrow!

Today I got to the garden at 8.30am, met Emily (she brought me lovely cut flowers!) a bit later, and didn't leave til 12.30pm.

Between us we watered, weeded, deadheaded and trimmed a lot of stuff! The daffodil, Chasmanthe, Amaryllis and Scilla leaves are dying down and look awful, so I trimmed of loads of those. I was also delighted to see Robert who tells me the watering system is now ON for short bursts once a week. Excellent - no more hours of watering!

Matt also joined us and planted a lovely variegated Yucca elephantipes "Jewel" by the steps, moved an Agave americana variegata to do so, and put that near the arch. He also planted a 10' tall section of columnar cactus (Cereus?) on the cactus wall that Channing and John brought us. Insta-Cactus! (see pic!)

Later on I met Joe and Dave who are getting me some quotes on some hardscape work that needs to be done at the garden. Luckily Ron was walking by so he put in his $0.02 on the area around the info kiosk. I think it's all going to look rather spiffy, people!

Friday, May 21, 2010

All Business

Monday: Annie and I met up at lunchtime to garden at the Mariposa Center Garden.

Bougainvillea and Dietes were planted, everything was watered. Weeding occurred with furry. No photos tell the tale.
Friday: Before lunch I met with a UCSF representative about the 100 Pennsylvania Garden and showed her the site for 100 Pennsylvania Garden (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden).

If UCSF can help us even in a small way, it would be very appreciated!
After work I planted red Cosmos, a Helianthus 'Teddy Bear Sunflower' and Geum quellyon var. flora plena ‘Blazing Sunset’ all in the red bed. I also moved the Knautia out from under the Cardoon. See photos for garden newness and beauty.

Another guest spot on NEN

Adam from the Neighborhood Empowerment Network has once again asked me to do a guest blog spot on his web site, and I thought I'd cover various aspects of the financial side of gardening this time - what to do when the height of your vision exceeds the depths of your pockets!

Neighborhood Empowerment Network, Thursday, May 20, 2010
From Guerrillas to Grants

Matt and I had our customary bagel in the garden this morning and noted that many Agapanthus that were meant to have blue flowers are actually white, and a clump of Silene coronaria (Rose Campion) that is meant to be white are showing hot pink buds. I swear these plants sit around at night thinking of ways to confound me...
Pic above shows a butterfly on a Statice (Limonium) that Boj snapped a while back 'cos I forgot to take a pic today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I came home from work and had some more work to do, and you know what? I just didn't feel like it. So I went to the garden and watered for 2 hours. Some of those wallflowers are looking pretty floppy... if they don't watch out I'm going to rip them out and replace them with Aloes and succulents... mmm.

Earlier Josh was at the garden weeding. I should mention to him that if he just pulled ALL the weeds out, he wouldn't have to keep coming back to do more. I mean, come on! We could have a totally weed-free garden! Sheesh...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fairy Godmother to the Rescue

Many thanks to Sharon for helping secure the success of the Mariposa Center Garden aka The Strip through the generous support of a neighborhood group, 'The Godmothers'. On account of the donation from Sharon and the Godmothers we will now be able to properly finish planting out the 4'x30' strip that comprises the garden. Our plans include adding numerous additional California native plants like lupines and buckwheats, along with a heavy dose of mulch and volunteer effort. This will happen very soon, to take advantage of our currently misty wet Spring. I can't emphasis enough how thankful I am for their donation. Sharon was such a trooper to visit the garden in the rain!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Panic abatement program

Today was the day of the pre-tour, where garden owners on the tour get to see the gardens in advance of next week's tour. Because they will be too busy on the day, you know?

 I woke up with a start this morning and rushed to the garden to hopefully finish my list of tasks from yesterday. On the way I got my coffee and fretted about how on earth it'd all get done.When I arrived though, a blessed angel in a stripy sweater was waiting for me: the lovely Josh who read my pathetic wailing of the last two days and came to help me.

It is a sign the depths of my desperation that when I asked him "but Josh - isn't your garden on the tour too? Why aren't you at home primping it!?" and he replied "Oh, my garden always looks perfect." I did not think he was being funny as usual, nor did I snap back some joke about his Martha Stewart-esque gardening habits or shocking lack of humbleness. No, I was so frantic with fretfulness about the garden's appearance that I sheepishly thought "Oh my god - he's right. P. Garden is a disaster zone and only a slovenly gardener would allow it to end up looking like this. I'm a BAD PERSON!"

One can always count on one's friends to kick one when one is down, and then clean out your storm drain with a smile on their face. See exhibit A, above... it's so clean you could eat a matzo ball off it! :P

We also weeded the paths, planted the plants I got yesterday, swept the steps, deadheaded the Watsonias and Irises, watered just about everything, and Matt came by and fixed up the twig borders by the bench. Frenzy!

I got to Kepa's house, the first on the pre-tour, at 11.45 but sat in the car for 10 minutes because I assumed Kepa is a normal person who is primping her garden til the last minute. Thank goodness I was right! Then we all toured around the gardens and saw some delightful and very interesting gardens on the Hill. I strongly recommend you get your tickets and go on the tour: it's going to be a treat! Here are the details in case you forgot:

Tickets are $25/each or $40/pair
Available at Christopher's Books (1400 18th St) and All States-Best Foods (1607 20th St)

All proceeds benefit the Potrero Library Campaign.

For more information:
Mary Abler, (415) 626-7512 x107 or

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Panic planting, part 2

Yesterday Leah weeded the cactus wall. Today I also set out to the garden with the tools needed to Do Lots of Work and Make a Difference! Namely: an extra large coffee, and Matt.

Together we weeded the paths from archway to almost the top of the garden (just the left side path/steps to do) and watered the front and red beds pretty thoroughly.

I managed to squeeze in chats with Sharon and her daughter and friend, Gary, and Jim. In the meantime, Matt was busy making a water catching bowl around the tree dahlias and weeding other areas.

Tomorrow I've got to finish the weeding, repair some twig borders, and empty the storm drain ditch - all before noon!

Later on Matt and I drove down to Half Moon Bay and dropped by a nursery there. Oh dear - panic plant buying ensued! I picked up:

Agastache rupestris (Mexican heather)
3 Verbascum sp. "Cotswold King"
Penstemon strictus
Leucadendron "Safari Goldstrike"

My theory is a) you can't have too many Verbascums, b) we need something tough and bright to go on the corner of the red bed (Agastache, Penstemon) and c) I have been looking for a large yellow Leucadendron for ages, and this one seems perfect. It's not as golden yellow as I wanted but it gets 6-7' tall and I have been holding a spot for it for ages.

And now I have to plant them all. Ack!

Photo shows a Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis festalis) flowering. Smells like fabric softener!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Panic planting

This evening I stopped by Home Despot for what is fast becoming a tradition: panic plant buying before the garden tour (got your tickets yet? Click here to find out how!)

In my defense, the area that Arum had cleared of mint last weekend was looking pitifully bare. But naturally Home Despot has some cheap this'n'that and I picked up 3 bluish-purple pincushion flowers (Scabiosa) and 3 yellow perennial wallflowers (Erysimum) to match the color theme and fill the gaps.

As usual I got to the garden and realized I got the wrong stuff: I should have got more yellow and less purple items. Oh well. I put them in, and moved over three Agapanthus "Tinkerbell" (Dwarf Variegated Agapanthus) that were moping in the front bed under some mean old Gaillardias. I also slid over a clump of lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and some Pacific Coast iris (Iris douglasiana) to complete the look. I doubt it will be thick and lush by the tour, but at least it won't look pathetic and bare! Pic shows end result - poor old Princess Plant (Tibouchina) is still looking a bit shellshocked but she's bouncing back fast, and the bush daisy (Euryops) should come to the rescue to hide her naked trunk soon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

P is for Protecting Plants at Pennsylvania Garden

Why is P for Protecting Plants at Pennsylvania Garden?

1. Red Ranunculus were ripped out of the red bed last week
2. A red Glaucium (Iranian Poppy) was ripped out of the red bed by the bench last week
3. Yellow Aquilegia (Columbine) and Yellow Ranunculus were ripped out of the left bed

Now, I know a reader of this blog didn't do it - you are all wonderful people, and excellent gardeners who know that ripping out plant in full flower is about the worst way to transplant anything. I bring up P is for Protecting Plants at Pennsylvania Garden because I am asking you to keep an eye open when you're at the garden. If you see anyone rumaging around among the plants, stop and say hello. Just make your presence known with a 'good morning' or whatever salutation you wish. 99% of the time you will be saying Hi to Annie or me. That other 1% of the time you will be preventing some dastardly person from stealing plants.

On to better news....... Right now at the garden we have four different varieties of Dahlia that are between 1" and 1' in height. By the time they start flowering they should be between 3-4' tall and 2' wide - and absolutely covered in gigantic draw dropping flowers, sometime in July. I'm stoked.
I watered them today to help ensure the awesomeness. I'll fertilize them next week.

In other news, the Peruvian Daffodil is flowering in the left bed by the cactus path and the Lathyrus (Sweet Pea) 'Berry Dare' has just started flowering on the trellis by the bench. In a few weeks I expect to fall down the stairs as I oogle the sweet pea flowers, so be warned if you find me in a heap at the bottom.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring Garden Tour Sunday May 23rd!

Proudly announcing the Potrero Hill Spring Garden Tour!  Visit 10 private gardens & 4 public gardens - and raise funds for the Potrero Branch Library as well!  It doesn't get much better than that for a garden lover - or a library lover!

The details:
Sunday May 23rd 10am to 3pm
$25 for one person, $40 a couple.
Buy tickets from Christopher's Books (1400 18th St) or All States Best Foods (1607 20th St)

This is a good cause folks! Get out and get your tickets - you'll be able to nosy around so many amazing private gardens (and P. Garden!)  and see some verrrrry interesting spots, let me tell you ;)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Slight rain

Well I awoke to the sound of rain today - would have been great for the garden which is a bit parched, except it was a very light rain. I went out and watered and did a few other tasks from 10am-2pm.

Matt planted five yellow iceplants (Lampranthus aurantiacus)around the base of the Agave scabra we planted yesterday. I tidied the Calla lilies (entering summer dormancy unless they get more water!) and watered the steps area and back slope plants thoroughly. Deadheaded the Kniphofias and roses. And sold several plants to Mark who came to us via Craigslist. He came back later for more plants and gave me a few too! One was a Dudleya cutting I think - mmm,  I like Dudleyas... :)

There's SO much to do in the garden. I am desperate for help weeding and fixing up the twig borders. I will have to think of ways to get more volunteers to help. Perhaps I can lure them with donuts and coffee? ;)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mint begone!

Today Matt and I spent about 4 and a half hours in the garden. We got a lot done, and we were ably assisted by Arum who came by to help and brought sodas. Great thinking!

We started out by  making a space on the cactus wall for a lovely big Agave salmiana ssp. crassispina that John donated. Out came a boring old Agave americana (actually quite a beautiful 10 gallon specimen, of which I have three: anyone want to buy a matched set?) and we rearranged the fuzzy columnar cactus, Dasylirion wheeleri, and oddly unhappy-looking clump of iceplant (Lampranthus) at the base. Now the lovely Aloe ferox is not crowded, and the Agave salmiana ssp. crassispina can shine. See before and after pics, left.

After that I went to see what Arun was up to. I'd told her that the pineapple mint in the garden was behaving just exactly the way mint behaves, to my disbelief. In other words, taking over the entire darn country. I asked her if she'd mind pulling some out, and when I checked in she had obliterated half of it!

I can't tell you how pleased I was. I was giddy! We finished the job in no time and had several massive minty piles to dispose of. Then we planted three Pacific Coast Iris (Iris douglasiana) to fill the gaps (still room for some more plants there. Anything yellow will work.)

Now, that mint will be back, mark my words. It's a rabid little plant that will no doubt be one of the ones that could survive a nuclear winter. Imagine the world: a giant minty-fresh ball of cockroaches. Ugh. So if you're in the garden and you see it reviving itself, feel free to rip it out! Pic shows Arun - Mintmaster General!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More plants sold... and a few stolen.

OK, despite my Craigslist posting both Tin and Wes managed to get me to agree to meet them at the garden today to buy some plants. That's another $90 for the garden - thanks guys!

On the way there I saw Emily on the street, on her way to Center Hardware for some items. She helped me pick out plants for the guys.

After she left I noticed a hole in the red bed... then another, and another! Someone has gone through and stolen almost ALL the Ranunculus from the bed, as well as the Glaucium sp. (Horned Poppy) "Iran" from the same bed.

Just ripped them out of the ground.

Well. I can only think it must not have been a real gardener, because what true gardener would steal plants like that, knowing full well how much work and love goes into the growing of plants? And if they're not a real gardener they won't know how to look after the plants, which will no doubt die. Shame on them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Want plants?

OK, so we have a few leftovers from the plant sale. In an effort to sell them and free up some space in the back of the garden, please see our Craigslist posting for a list and pricing. Let me know what you're looking for - I'll make you a deal on these already inexpensive plants!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plant sale deemed a success!

Yesterday was beyond hectic. We didn't get everything labeled and priced in time, and on arrival at the garden discovered additional generous donations waiting for us!

However, Matt, Emily and I got to work around 9am setting up the tents, tables and chairs Gary had generously loaned us. You can see them in the photo Max took, above. Matt and I zoomed up to Audrey's to get a donation (thanks!) and then Matt went to print out the brochure he'd designed for the garden, and the signs for the street.

After that it was all about plants. John and Channing dropped off a stupendous quantity of Agaves, Aloes and cacti among other things. We all tirelessly labeled and arranged plants. And before 11am customers had started to show up for the sale (not supposed to start til 12pm... oh dear!)

Mayhem ensued.

I caught glimpses of Leah and Josh selling plants (always an upsell - some people ended up buying a couple dozen plants!) and Matt wheelbarrowing deliveries to people's cars or homes, if they lived nearby. We had a couple lulls in the action to restock, but we kept selling and selling. Sometime around 5.30 everyone was gone and we had put everything away (thanks for your help Kieth and Donna!) and we flopped down with a glass of apple juice (thanks Whole Foods!)

A short sugar rush later, we'd packed away the tents and tables, and Emily, Matt and I went to my house to count the takings. $1,116! It was all worth it - I hope this will cover the info kiosk for the front of the garden, and I'm going to start working on that on Monday.

THANK YOU to all the volunteers and all the plant donors. Without you this sale would have consisted of me sitting on the dirt with 3 or 4 sad looking plants. And it ended up being a great success. Three cheers for YOU!

PS I didn't take any pics, but thank goodness Emily did! See her shots here. Also I snagged one of Josh and his dog Cosmo assisting us at the sale, above. Awww. And a couple others ;)
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