Friday, April 29, 2011

Guerrilla Sunflower Day

Our friends over at have reminded us that this Sunday May 1st is Guerrilla Sunflower Day

"We plant sunflowers beyond our boundaries, in verges, shabby flower beds, crevices, along fences, tree pits. Some thrive, some fail. It's the fifth year we've rallied together on this day and thousands are already signed up online making plans. Go out solo or find friends to wander around planting hope together, strike up conversations with passers by and take photos, share your progress online and let me know how you get on. There's a video with tips here."
Since San Francisco's weather is pretty different to that of the UK, I recommend that if you plant sunflower seeds on May 1st you should water them regularly since we won't get much more rain. Alternately I recommend planting California poppies. They're tough, they're native, and they don't need much help at all to get going. Grab a packet of seeds today and go out and sprinkle them around your neighborhood this weekend.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ice, ice, baby!

Lampranthus spectabilis
Check out the ice plants growing in the garden this week: they are flowering like crazy and the colors are hotter than a very hot thing. How to identify them? Well, look for low mounds of eye-popping color - small succulent plants absolutely covered in many-petalled flowers about 1-2" across...

Starting along the cactus wall you'll see orange Malephora crassa, bright candy red Lampranthus spectabilis and pinky-purple Drosanthemum floribundum.

Malephora crassa
If you walk up the garden to the middle back bed there's also a purple Drosanthemum striatum and the absolutely bonkers Drosanthemum bicolor covered in red, orange and yellow flowers.

You'd have to be blind to miss these flowers. Actually, the colors are so bright your vision may become impaired. Don't stare into the flowers too long!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Matt's new project
Today I met Crima and hr group of 16 ecology students from City College at the garden to give them a tour of the PG, and of the SPUR project (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) and Mariposa Center Garden down the street too. They were all nice and asked lots of questions - hopefully I answered them without rambling to much!

In the meantime, Matt was busy on a project. He cleared out under the Pittosporum tree at the top of the garden and planted three Echium pininana (Giant Viper's bugloss), surrounded by lots of the Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion) that John gave us recently. Should make for quite a dramatic little bed!

After the tour left I weeded the bed formerly known as the red bed, but which we are now calling the "bright bed" since it contains bright colored flowering perennials. Calling it the red bed led to an obsessive fixation with buying only red-flowered plants for that area which was becoming quite monotonous!

Morel mushrooms
I planted a variegated Dianella tasmanica, an orangey Kniphofia "Yellow Cheer," several Alstroemeria "Third Harmonic," a group of three Helichrysum bracteatum "Monster Rose," and another group of three Oenothera versicolor "Endless Orange."

Got everything watered in, mulched and done. Pow! 

Bottom pic shows some morel mushrooms that Dee pointed out to me yesterday. Fancy!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wildlife has a wild life

I see you creeping up on me...
Today I went down to Warm Water Cove to weed for a while with the other volunteers there. Great little garden, and the weather was excellent for weeding.

After that I met Dee at PG and we weeded for an hour - got the front bed sorted out, and I also planted two Coreopsis and a variegated Agapanthus in the middle back bed.

A nasty smell had been wafting across the neighborhood all morning. I saw Juana walking her dogs and she told me there was an unfortunate skunk who'd been killed in the intersection at 18th where the off ramp ends. Where was he going to? Coming from? Why did the skunk cross the road? We'll never know.

OK that's it - I'm out!
I went up and sure enough a little black and white corpse lay there. Oh dear. Not wanting to either a) wait for the city to come remove him, b) smell him any longer or c) let the smell get worse as he was repeatedly run over.... I went and picked him up and put him on the compost heap. Not that you do anyway, but do I need to tell you not to frolic on the compost heap any more?

Shortly after Nate and Tanya came by and pointed out that we had more wildlife in the garden. A juvenile red-tailed hawk (probably) was sitting on the wooden arch, making that whiny baby hawk cry they do when they want their parents to feed them. I managed to get a picture before s/he flew away. Pretty cool.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Plant profile: Phlomis

P. fruticosa
With about 100 species in the genus, these often fuzzy-leaved perennial plants fill a great niche in the dry gardener's palette. They behave nicely, require little to no water, and have a softness that most xeric plants don't bring to the table. Think of them as "lamb's ears plus"!

Latin name: Phlomis ("FLO-miss")

Common name: Jerusalem Sage, or, if you're Matt, Flomax.
Originally from: the Mediterranean, across central Asia to China
Blooms: Various colors include yellow, pink, purple and white, depending on the species.
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 4' tall x 6' wide
USDA Zone:  7-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have three yellow ones (P. fruticosa) in the left bed and middle back bed, and a purple one (P. purpurea) directly in front of the bench.

P. fruticosa
Our first Phlomis was planted in Decmber 2008. I got it from a nursery who encouraged me to buy it despite my reservations that it was just some sort of weedly what-have-you. Actually my exact words were "what the hell is this? Why did I buy it? Argh!" That Phlomis fruticosa has gone on to be a little winner, so there you go.

Inspired by that, in December 2010 I got a Phlomis purpurea which is quite busy growing. This one, as the name hints, has purple flowers.

P. purpurea
Happy in full sun sites or on dry woodland edges, this plant is fairly versatile. It also appears to be goat resistant judging by the many Phlomis we saw growing wild on Crete where goats scour the landscape eating anything that's not made of steel, and sometimes a few things that are. And saying something is goat resistant is quite a thing - goats will eat anything! I've heard they're deer-proof too, so if you have deer take note.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Watch the neighbors! No, wait - I mean...


You are invited to attend the 200 Block Pennsylvania Ave Neighborhood Watch 3rd Meeting.

Tuesday, April 19th, 7 – 8pm
208 Pennsylvania Ave #205 – Muller Residence

Our recently formed neighborhood watch group is currently focused on the following priorities:

1. Closing 280 Exit curve onto Pennsylvania Ave.
2. Eliminating Auto Break-In’s on Pennsylvania Ave.

3. Reducing Domestic Disturbances on Pennsylvania Ave.
4. Lighting in Pennsylvania Gardens
5. Traffic Calming at 18th & Mariposa St. Intersections
6. Emergency Preparedness

If you are interested in any of the above items, have any other neighborhood safety concerns, or just want to participate in making our street more safe please join us.

Questions? Please email Jim Wilkins at wilkins.jim at gmail dot com

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another sunny day in Potrero Hill

Clivias behind the bench
It's always sunnier here on the hill, and today I saw fog elsewhere while we were bathed in warmth.

I had a quick trip to the garden and cut back some plants that were growing into pathways, watered some potted plants, and took a few photos.

I think we'll need to start the sprinklers soon as the garden is getting dry. This year we'll have 45 mins of sprinkling once a week from May to October. Just enough, but still a very low rate of watering.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Plant profile: Pelargonium

"I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."

This quote from none other than the USA's first ever First Lady, Martha Washington, is a valuable but somewhat finger-wagging reminder to keep your upper lip stiff, and look on the bright side, kids.

And if there's any plant that does not suffer from a dejected attitude or lack of spirit, it's the Pelargonium, or geranium as it's commonly known. Common being the operative word! They are not only freely available, inexpensive and easy to propagate, but they also have a Carmen Miranda-ish flamboyance that the early settlers of the US probably loved, giddy as they were with their new-found freedom (haha)!

When geraniums were introduced to the gardening public back in the 1600s, they included the species we now refer to as Pelargonium, or potted geranium, as well as the ones of the true Geranium genus. By the time Pelargonium was split off as its own genus, it was too late to try to change the name that had been in use, and the common name geranium stuck for both genera to this day. Oh well.

Latin name: Pelargonium ("pell-ar-GO-nee-um")

Common name: Geranium
Originally from: South Africa, mostly, though they occur in Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar,Yemen, Asia Minor and two very isolated islands in the south Atlantic ocean (St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha).
Blooms: The entire plant is covered in masses of bright orange multi-petalled flowers in spring.
Light: Full sun, part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: We keep ours behind the wrong way sign - they love the heat.

A large genus of 250 species of South African herbs and shrubs, the first Pelargoniums known to be cultivated was Pelargonium triste, from South Africa. Likely brought to the botanical garden in Leiden, Netherlands before 1600 on ships which stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, in 1631, the English gardener John Tradescant the elder bought seeds from Rene Morin in Paris and introduced the plant to England.

In 1738 Johannes Burman introduced the name Pelargonium, from the Greek πελαργός, pelargós, stork, because part of the flower looks like a stork's beak. In fact, the common name for Pelargoniums is Crane's Bill to this day.

To bring this post full circle, when they arrived in the USA is anyone's guess, but one particularly showy type became popular in the early 1900s: The Lady or Martha Washington geraniums (Pelargonium x domesticum) Yes, they're gaudy colored, but as one might paraphrase Martha Washington: "Quit whining!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Great Compost Giveaway!

 Recology is giving away compost this Saturday from 8 am -12 noon… Bring your own bucket and get some of the goodness for your garden, or heck: grab a load for Pennsylvania Garden! We can certainly use it.

More details can be seen here:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Shout Out to Starbucks

I've been dashing from work/garden/work about once a week, picking up a tub of coffee grounds from the Starbucks at UCSF (1700 Owens Street). Full disclosure, I am not much of a coffee drinker, but the staff at Starbucks are exceptionally nice - for both saving the grounds for the garden, and for being so cheerfull every time I try not to interrupt their morning rush. So, way to go Starbucks!

In case you want to know why we are using coffee grounds at Pennsylvania Garden, here are a few reasons:

1) For side dressing plants that like extra nitrogen (like roses!). Try to put down a one inch layer
2) Creating a ring of grounds around plants that are susceptible to slugs and snails, which hate the coarse texture and acid of the coffee grounds (it seems to work!)
3) Adding it to our compost pile as a source of extra nitrogen
In case you haven't been by the garden to check out the newly spruced up pathway along the cactus wall, I recommend going for a stroll and stop and smell the roses there. You may get a whiff of coffee too!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Windy, and purply

It's seriously windy today. I went to the garden at lunchtime to pot up twenty one 4" pots of  Lychnis coronaria (rose campion) that were given to us by John. The pots were flying all over the place!

I love the intense pink color of the rose campion, so hopefully the seedlings will take and we can put them all over the place.

The middle back bed is looking nice today. I had planned it to include many shades of purplle and silver, and the photo here shows just that! Working from lower left in a clockwise fashion we have silvery lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), variegated Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), more lamb's ears, orange California poppies, blue pincushion flowers (Scabiosa), Lavendula stoechas "Madrid Purple" (lavender), and in front of that the strappy leaves of Aristea major (about to flower for the first time!), then silvery Plectranthus argentatus, a purple Lantana camera, and finally the Pacific Coast iris (Iris douglasiana) on the bottom right.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Plant profile: Malephora

First described in 1789, the genus Malephora has just 17 species in the genus, and not many books or papers published about it. This genus seems to have suffered a lack of attention, despite one member, M. crocea having been in cultivation for over two centuries.

Latin name: Malephora crassa ("mal-eh-FOR-ah CRASS-ah")
Common name: Bush Orange Ice Plant
Originally from: South Africa
Blooms: The entire plant is covered in masses of bright orange multi-petalled flowers in spring.
Light: Full sun, part shade
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: Several clumps grow between the Aloes in the Aloe hedge, alongside the storm drain

We have several types of "ice plant" at Pennsylvania garden, the common name of several different genera. Some are trailing, ground cover types, but Malephora crassa is a more upright, bushy kind, reaching about 18" high and 24" wide. The flowers open around noon for bees, wasps, flies and butterflies to pollinate them.

Subtle it ain't, but if you like saturated colors this tough little plant is available everywhere very cheaply and will bring a dose of xeric planty sunshine to your garden.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunny Sunday

Watsonia flower
Today was another lovely warm day, so I went to the garden and tried to figure out the best way to organize the area behind the wrong way sign. With the recent demise of all our Cannas due to infection with canna virus, we have had to dig them all out and replace them with something else.

I removed a bunch of leftover Cannas and weeds, and moved a Gaillardia over to the edge. Then I planted a nice red Coprosma of some unknown variety that I'd been saving at home. I'm going to move our Banksia over there too, and add a Euphorbia and some Aloes and Agaves too. I'll have to wait until the white Watsonias are done flowering though - they're just getting started and won't appreciate being moved right now.

Scilla flower
In the top bed I planted a Cussonia spicata as a tall accent on the right end. This is a really cool small African cabbage tree that has lovely unusual leaves. We have room for one more Cussonia at the garden and I'm aiming for one of the blue-grey leaved species.

In the middle back bed I weeded and trimmed, and redid the front border using the branches Deric and Kome gave us. Perfect branches for weaving - long, supple and smooth. I wish we could get loads more, but luckily we have a nice pile that'll last a while.

California poppy "White Linen"
After all that I was a bit hot, so I walked up the street to get a drink. On the way I dropped in to Plow to let the owners know what's wrong with their pear tree out front (a fungus) and on the way back I met Karen who as it turns out owned the original Tibouchina that Jim planted at the garden!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mariposa Center Garden makeover

Emily, Gillian, Elliot and John
Today we had another great turnout at the garden, with some new volunteers alongside the regulars. 14 volunteers equals 28 person hours of work done in 2 hours of time - this warms the cockles of my heart!

The plan was to thoroughly weed and mulch the Mariposa Center Garden (MCG) opposite Center Hardware, and plant a few extra Dietes along the front.

BJ, Carlin and Riley
Leading the charge, Emily was joined by her mom Debbie, John, Heather, Riley, BJ, and later on everyone else from PG mentioned below. They thoroughly stripped the area of weeds, laid a thick bed of mulch and planted and watered in some Dietes from PG.

Carlin pruned some low-hanging branches off the cherry plum trees, then she and Elliot and Gillian dug up the aforementioned Dietes from Pennsylvania Garden and transported them down to the MCG for planting.

Matt and the new boards
Janet weeded a lot, then potted up some Mexican Feather Grasses (Nassella tenuissima) for the SPUR project (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) down the street. They'll be transported up to Mendocino where Matt's dad is helping us by growing on plants in his greenhouse.

Nate relentlessly ferried wheelbarrows of mulch down to the MCG, as well as containers of water for the new plants filled by Dee and Carlin.

Josh weeded all along the storm drain, ably assisted by his dog Cosmo. Leslie weeded the path in front, and then she and Matt installed some pressure-treated boards at the base of the handrail, and covered the path in mulch. At one point a saw was needed and Leslie went and got a cordless circular saw from her home. I was beyond impressed with that!

All in all another fantastic day - loads of work done, great people and fab weather to boot.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Smart Ways to Create a Pee-Resistant Garden

We have a guest post today on dealing with dogs in the garden. Hope you find it useful!

Smart Ways to Create a Pee-Resistant Garden
Plant selection, Garden Design & Other Tricks

There are over seventy seven million dogs in the United States. 37% of American households have at least one. Urban and suburban dwellers alike are constantly searching for solutions to overcome the little inconveniences attached to the joys and companionship that comes with dog ownership.

For us gardeners the battle has multiple fronts: Digging, bark chewing, snacking on poisonous plants and a “pet peeve” of mine dog waste damage due to nitrogen burn.

Until a few months ago I lived in traditional suburban home, postage stamp-sized yard and all. I tried every trick in the book short of giving my mutt away. No matter the strategy my garden always had burn spots, flowers and plants suffering from copious showers of pee, the joyful gift of my Great Dane.

With the help of a few Master Gardener friends and inspired by my move to a larger plot of land with rich landscape I came upon a treasure of information addressing ways to prevent and reduce this problem.

It is important that we understand the root of the problem. Acidity issues do not cause pee burn, instead we are dealing with excess nitrogen. We are basically dealing with over-fertilization and that my friend is good news.

First let’s address a few things that don’t work and are borderline dangerous:

  • Adjusting the dog’s diet. This is a highly negligent approach since it jeopardizes the nutritional well being of our pet and it simply does not work.
  • Using store bought solvents. This does not reduce the overall quantity of nitrogen; instead it disperses it. This method does not work, as it would require for us to run behind Fido each and every time it pees.
  • Water additives. It is chemically impossible to reduce the nitrogen in urine. Magic dusts added to the dog’s water would not do the trick.

Things that work:

  • Utilizing artificial grass litter boxes for doggies. These boxes come with grass scent and small to medium doggies love it.
  • Most Agaves will do well when exposed to high nitrogen
  • Selecting coastal grasses such as Redgrass, Sawgrass, bentgrass and Long Hair Sedge.
  • Bulbous low water plants such as Asclepias tuberosa
  • Anecdotally we have heard that Solidago and Agastache do quite well with dog waste exposure.
  • Placing perimeter wireless dog fences around beds with prized plants.

Having moved into a larger plot of land we are now training the dogs to use just one area of our yard. They have responded quite well and I can now claim over 80% of my yard as pet-waste-free areas. Regardless of the size of your yard there are always things you can do to reduce the aesthetic impact of dog ownership and yield superior gardening results.

About the Authors: Mey Brown is an avid gardener with a passion for organic practices. Susan Wright is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine with over 16 years of experience. They have been featured in hundreds of blogs and write for
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