Monday, May 30, 2011

Wrong Way done right

The area behind the Wrong Way sign has been a bit of a mess for a while. After the Cannas were infected with Canna virus we had to throw them all out, which left some Gaillardias and some Watsonias. Spring reminded me that the Watsonias were mostly white ones when they flowered - they need to go to the left bed. But what other plants could go in that spot? The directives were a) xeric or very drought tolerant, b) bright colored if possible c) no taller than 4' high to preserve the line of sight for drivers exiting the freeway.

I'd recently planted a Coprosma there, and Janet moved out Banksia spinulosa over there too. And today Matt and I went by the Flora Grubb sale and we just went for it. We bought:

1 large red Phormium "Guardsman"
3 Elymus magellanicus
1 Agave gypsophila
1 Aloe tomentosa (with three heads - we can divide it!)
1 Arctotis "Burgundy"

These plants make a great rich red and silvery combination. We got back to the garden and started by ripping out a bunch of Gaillardias and Watsonias - that felt good! The stage was set.

We placed the plants we'd bought in various areas, then we hunted through the plants in the back area and added to that group:

1 Agave lophantha
1 Agave salmiana ssp. crassispina
5 Agave parryii
1 Euphorbia "Excalibur"
14 Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)
5 Aeonium arboreum "Atropurpureum"
2 Aeonium arborium "Zwartkop"

With all these ready to go we started planting. After a few hours all 36 plants were watered in, and we cleaned up and built a fresh new twig border with the lovely branches Deric and Kome gave us. We even gave some Watsonias that were left over to a nice couple from Fremont who were visiting the garden.

Done! I'm really pleased with how it all looks, and it'll all grow in and be beautiful AND low maintenance, I hope. I've decided to add a few Artemisias around the base of the Phormium and Agave lophantha to pick up the silvery theme too - might try rooting up my own.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention I planted some Portulaca grandiflora (Moss-rose Purslane) in the bright bed last week, At $6 for 18 plants from Home Despot these sunny, heat-loving little annuals should fill in the front of that bed nicely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If one is good, three are better!

Previously there was one purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the brights bed and now there are three. All rejoice! Ok, if that's not enough to be excited about it rained a bit this morning, so the ground was actually fairly wet when I planted the new Echinacea, and a bunch of the Zinnia and Cosmos seedlings are sprouting up. Annelle stopped by too, and it was nice to see her and say hello. Overall the garden is quite beautiful right now (I say that a lot don't I?) so you should stop by too!

Plant profile: Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears)

A lamb, earlier today
Lamb's Ears (the plant) is named rather obviously after lamb's ears (the ovine aural organ - see lamb, left) - and what a great comparison it is! Soft, fluffy and whitish, they are a fun plant to pet as you go by.

Very drought tolerant, this plant actually dislikes summer water and humidity in general which marks the leaves and makes them mouldy. It also likes low-quality soil. The perfect San Francisco garden plant.
"Helen von Stein"
and ladybug.
Latin name: Stachys byzantina ("STACK-iss biz-an-TEE-nah")
Common name: Lamb's Ear,Woolly Betony
Originally from: Turkey, Armenia and Iran.
Blooms: Light purple, white or pink flower spikes in late spring or summer
Light: Part sun, part shade.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: We have several clumps of "Helen von Stein" in the left bed, and the regular kind in the middle back bed.

We bought some of the cultivar "Helen von Stein" which has larger, greener leaves and is more tolerant of various growing conditions. This has spread by seeds quite nicely - it isn't invasive for us, and makes a very useful border edging plant, since it only grows about 12' tall at most. We also have the regular smaller-leaved silvery version which is my favorite. This species also comes in a lime-yellow shade, as well as a subtly variegated version, though I haven't seen these for sale locally.

First introduced into cultivation in England in 1782, it has long been grown for it's foliage, though it does produce flower spikes with purplish flowers that rise up to 2'. In Brazil is used as a edible herb, called Lambari, that supposedly has some medicinal properties but I can't find out what they are as there's a fish that goes by the same name that appears to be far more popular on the internet!

UPDATE June 2016: The species has seeded all over the garden in a  lovely way, and appears totally drought proof. Lovely little lambies!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Prep work

Matt and I hit the garden on Saturday to prepare the area by the compost heap for our new composters. We'd decided to build our own three bay compost system after looking at the flimsy premade composters available to buy, and we're drawing up plans for that system now. We measured the area and we have room for three bays, each 3' wide, 3' deep and about 4' tall.

Next volunteer day is June 4th and on that day we invite anyone with tools and woodworking skills to come out and help get that project off the ground.

As we moved compost and weeds to make room for the bins, we realized that the big pile, where we throw weeds and pine cones and stuff that doesn't really make good compost, has actually composted down at the base (surprise!) and made some lovely looking dirt. We transferred some of that to the plastic bin (designated for food scraps and good stuff) which is now very full - fingers crossed the high heat and 2 years of composting time has killed off any weed seeds.. We also moved some into a heap up at the top of the garden.

Midway through doing that we realized that if we remove too much material at the base of the big pile, our bins will be sitting in a hole. And since we want to move the tool shed up there too, under the loquat tree, we need to excavate some dirt and make a terrace to sit the shed on so it stands vertically on the slope.

So we stopped excavating compost and started clearing out the ivy from the place the shed will go. I also cut back a few loquat branches.

After getting tired it was time to retreat home and plan the bins, as well as decide on what type of shed we'll get to replace the too-small metal cabinet we currently have. We need something about 6' tall, 4' wide and about 6' deep to get all our tools into, and to roll the hose cart and wheelbarrow directly in. Shopping time!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plant profile: Aristea capitata (syn. A. major)

Newsflash: It's flowering now for the first time! This African plant sports iris-like sword-shaped leaves year round, but the bright blue flowers only appear in spring, and though we've had the plant since it was a wee 4" pot, it's finally rewarded our care.

Latin name: Aristea capitata ("ah-RIST-ee-ah cap-ee-TA-ta") syn. A. major
Common name: Blousuurkanol, Blue Sceptre
Originally from: the Cape of Africa.
Blooms: Gentian blue spikes of flowers rise  above the clump each spring to about 4' high.
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. Little summer water, though good water-retaining soil helps
Where to find in P. Garden: the middle back bed has a clump.

In the genus Aristea there are approximately 55 species distributed throughout Africa and Madagascar, most of them with brilliant blue flowers, a few with lilac or white flowers. Several are beautiful, but unfortunately not all of them are so easy to grow - they're not commonly found in cultivation, and you certainly won't get them at Home Despot. Aristea ecklonii is one species that can be found somewhat more often - looks like a giant Sisyrinchium.

We thought our specimen was a dud, but they do take several years to get comfy enough to flower. They don't love being divided, or moved, and the best way to propagate them is by seed. Hopefully our clump continues to spread.

UPDATE: the 5 year drought sadly killed this plant. In a place with a little more dampness it would likely thrive.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mulching in the Rain

Despite our best efforts last volunteer day not enough mulch made it on top of the landscape fabric, so today I went out and forked mulch around to build up a nice barrier between the fabric and all of our furry dog friends who like to dig!

If you look closely in the brights bed you'll see a few seedlings coming up (Zinnia and Cosmos in a variety of bright colors). I noticed a trampled plant on the corner too, which is awfully sad because it was just getting nice and big. So please, keep dogs out of the beds, always! I also transplanted an Eriogonum umbellatum that should add some nice sulphur yellow flowers and act as a 1' x 2' groundcover once it has filled out.

The last photo is from Annie over the weekend, of the brand new Glaucium grandiflorum. I can't wait until these plants get big and covered in orange blossoms!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Plant profile: Dipogon lignosus (Cape Sweet Pea)

When the arch was installed at PG, I decided it was time for a vine to climb up it. But I had a list of requirements for this here vine – and a common or garden Bougainvillea or jasmine wasn’t gonna cut it!

First, of course, it had to be drought tolerant – nay, drought proof. The arch area receives no water except seasonal rain. No passion flowers or Clematis for me.

Second, the vine had to be evergreen, low maintenance and perennial – more beauty, less fuss. Roses and sweet peas need not apply!

Third, the flowers had to smell nice. “OK, now you’re asking too much” I hear you say. But find my perfect vine I did, and Josh even had some seedlings for me of Dipogon lignosus – the Cape Sweet Pea.

Latin name: Dipogon lignosus ("DIP-oh-gone lig-NO-sus")
Common name: Cape sweet pea, Mile-a-Minute Vine,
Originally from: south America - mostly Western Cape and Eastern Cape.
Blooms: From early spring through summer.
Light: Full sun to part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: Grows 10' in one year. AHEM!
USDA Zones: 9-11
Where to find in P. Garden: The front archway is furred in it.
Our half dozen seedlings took a quick look at the bamboo canes we strung around the arch as a foothold, and raced up: they will probably span the arch in a month or so.

Dipogon lignosus is Least Concern in the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009), meaning that it is not threatened. In fact, it's not even mildly bothered. By anything at all.

In Australia and New Zealand where it is commonly named “mile-a-minute” (eek!) it's a highly invasive weed that climbs upwards and rambles sideways in a very naughty fashion.

And in SF? Well we have had ours on the arch at the front for a few years now and while we do occasionally trim it, it's been a great plant and I'd plant it again in a second.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Aeonium arborescens
Really windy this weekend, and the garden is being blown around. I spent an hour on Sunday weeding and admiring the work from Saturday. Planted half a dozen Aloe brevifolia in the middle back bed and considered the corn marigolds which are looking like they might be finishing for the year, and how different the garden looks when they're all pulled out...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bindweed is the antichrist

Saturday's volunteer day was great as always. We had a dozen people show up and work away for 2 hours, putting in a total of 24 person-hours of work which had an astonishing effect on the garden. We got so much done and several people asked if there were additional work days planned before the next official one. Well if they're THAT keen,who am I to stand in the way?

I sprinkled some multicolored California poppy seeds and yellow Calendula seeds along the lavender hedge as I pondered project number one for the day: to remove bindweed from the dog area and lay down weed barrier cloth. After covering this with mulch it should prevent bindweed from flourishing there. No, it won't stop it altogether, but it will put a severe dent in the party scene that the bindweed has been enjoying. Fingers crossed!

Uzuri and David
I'd estimated we'd get one 6' x 100' long strip done, but we got two strips done. Emily led the enthusiastic group comprised of Elliot, Paloma, David, Uzuri, Donna, Francisca and Leslie, who systematically rid the area of weeds. Leslie also pruned the Salvia "Anthony Parker" which was a bit overdue for a haircut.

In the meantime, I worked in the left bed alongside Carlin, who managed to prune back several unruly plants in no time at all. The cardoon, Cortaderia, Euphorbia "Blackbird", Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), Watsonia and Artemisia "Powis Castle" all got a trim.

Donna and Emily
I cut back the red Canna, a rosemary and a lavender, and together we worked on the Helichrysum petiolare and Coprosma that were threatening to take over the Phormium back there.

Emily moved the two Aquilegias from the left bed up by the bench - it was just too hot and dry for them. Janet moved a Banksia spinulosa over to a spot behind the wrong way sign too - that one wasn't getting enough sun. Dee cut back the Watsonias in the brights bed among other tasks, and Debbie cleaned up a great deal of weeds from the steps area.

Paloma and Elliot
While all this was going on, Matt was busy in the back slope. At the end of the day I was astonished to see how much work he'd done in cutting out terraces, securely marking the area for the new steps, and moving the compost bin up slope to the base of the compost heap.

Go team!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Volunteer day tomorrow!

Ever wanted to know what goes on at a PG volunteer day? Come on down and find out! We'll have some interesting little tasks to do tomorrow, and we supply the beverages so pop down to the garden at 10am for 2 hours of neighborhood beautification.

Photo shows a rose bush pruned by volunteer Nate a few months ago - look how well it responded!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quick planting trip

I ran over to the garden at lunchtime and met Emily. Mission: plant stuff that's been languishing too long!

We set about the top bed aka brights bed, and quickly put in some amazing poppies: three Glaucium flavum (yellow horned poppy), and three orange Glaucium grandiflorum. We moved some Achilleas out of the way for them. next we added three Geum quellyon var. flora plena "Blazing Sunset."

Good thing we were quick, because it was blazing hot out there!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

We skipped spring...

Blue Eyed Grass
(Sisyrinchium bellum)
... and went straight to summer! It's hot out in the garden this weekend, so Matt and I went out and did a few jobs, but didn't broil in the sun too much (reapply - reapply!)

On Saturday Matt turned the compost bin, taking out a few bucketfuls of good compost and spreading it around various plants. I did the same with the worm bin's contents, giving the Cordylines in the wine barrels at the front of the garden a hefty dose of goodness. They will either take off like rockets, or die smiling...

I noted that the lovely pink Dipogon lignosus (Australian Pea Vine) creeping around the wine barrels has been tidied up too - I think we have Dee to thank for that work, which appears to have been very carefully done. That vine is enthusiastic about covering anything within reach - great for the arch, not so great for the surrounding plants.

Back slope prep
Next Matt cut back the floppy leaves on the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) which is as usual going berserk and leaning on everything around it in a desperate bid to take over the universe.

Emily had bought another fabulous Cussonia for the garden recently, C. paniculata, and I planted that in the middle back bed after weeding out some non-performing daylilies and trimming back some lavenders and rosemary to make room. This brings our Cussonia species count to three, which I think is excellent as they are such a cool and unusual small tree.

Today we marked off and weeded the currently inaccessible back slope so that Ron from Iron Maverick could get in and create the terraces.

Hope he can start that soon: the area is treacherous, and I have a lot of nice cacti and agaves that would love to grow in that spot, where it's seriously hot and dry most of the year.

Tidy Tips in action
After that, we planted three lavanders in the lavender hedge and watered them in. The Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) seeds we planted way back in December 2009 are flowering now - very cute little native annual daisy. Another lovely native currently in flower in the middle back bed is the Blue Eyed Grass

(Sisyrinchium bellum) - what a charmer.

Lastly I watered the newly planted plants and fed the worms in the worm bin some fennel - hope they like that, because that's one weed I'd love to see go extinct in the garden!
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