Saturday, February 25, 2012

Good cut, bad cut

I hope that everyone has been out this week enjoying the brief burst of sunshine! If you've been out, walking the neighborhood, you may notice a few garden tasks that have gone undone. Not at Pennsylvania Garden of course (hah!) but I will tell you a cautionary tale about pruning Salvias and provide a tutorial on how to get the job done properly.

The first photo is a crop to protect the identity of the homeowners from a shall-remain-nameless fancy home publication. Dare to say that even fancy homes featured in magazines can have ill-maintained yards. Notice the the Salvia leucantha is tied together to form a bundle, and there are no leaves below the tie. Very sad.

Salvia leucantha, like many perennial Salvias, needs to be pruned back to 6" above the ground after they are done flowering. The old growth will loose it leaves as the days shorten, and when the days start to lengthen, if you haven't pruned it back you'll get the type of odd growth pictured in the photo. Pruning all the old growth back allows sunlight to reach the base of the plant and cause all sorts of great new vibrant growth to occur.

This brings us to our second photo. This is a Salvia leucantha on the way to the bench at Pennsylvania Garden before pruning back. You can see the spent flowers as the wispy white twigs with barely any purple flowers left.
The third photo shows how after that old growth is cut back, brand new growth is revealed below. Repeating this cycle annually will ensure a healthy bushy plant and avoid embarrassment when home is featured in Dwell magazine (don't report me to their publishers).

Happy pruning!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Plant profile: Lavatera

Lavatera maritima
(Tree mallow)
Latin name: Lavatera (pronounced "lav-ah-TER-ah")
Common name: Mallow
Originally from: California, the Mediterranean, central and eastern Asia, and Australia
Blooms: Pink, lavender, white, some varieties streaked.
Light: Sun, part sun
Water: Drought tolerant - rain is plenty.
Where to find in P. Garden: On the Mariposa Center Garden, actually.

About 25 species make up the genus Lavatera, and we have two of those species on the Mariposa Center Garden (aka "the Strip"):

Lavatera maritima
(Tree mallow)
Lavatera maritima (Tree mallow) from the Mediterranean, with its' veined lavender flowers, softly fuzzy celadon green leaves and relentless blooming habits, is a real winner in the Mariposa Center Garden.

Couple that with total imperviousness to drought and I am even willing to overlook it's somewhat blowsy habit. It's a fast grower but short lived. No worries - in 5 years just plant some more.

This one was labeled Lavatera "Barnsley" but that cultivar looks more pink. I suspect an error in the labelling department!

Lavatera assurgentiflora
(Island Mallow)
Lavatera assurgentiflora (Island Mallow) is unique to California, specifically the Channel Islands, a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel.

Our first one grew quickly from a 4" pot to a 5' tall and wide shrub in one season. It suffered from aphids the first year but bounced back. That, coupled with the fact it's always covered in magenta blooms, and grows heartily in the scalding sun down on Mariposa Street with zero summer water, made me a fan. So we got another one.

The common name, mallow, might make you think of marshmallow - the spongy confectionary without which a campfire event is incomplete. That particular treat is in fact made from the root of the plant Althaea officinalis or Marsh Mallow. However, our Lavateras are in the same family as the Marsh Mallow - the Malvaceae - so there is a connection. Just don't try and eat their roots...

The genus Lavatera used to contain plants that looked similar

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Things are getting flowery

Euphorbia characias
Such a warm, weird winter... lots of the plants in the garden are flowering, and I went out on Monday and took a few pics.

The Euphorbia characias that volunteered in the middle of the Agapanthus border is covered in lime green bracts - what a fabulous plant. And the good old Osteospermum is covered in purple flowers nearby.

I'd placed a craigslist ad to try and offload some terra cotta pots we had lying around, and Tom showed up to take them off my hands. I loaded him up with cuttings for his garden too and enjoyed a nice chat with him about urban planning.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Plant profile: Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)

Latin name: Rosmarinus officinalis ("roz-MAR-in-us oh-FISHY-nal-us")
Common name: Rosemary
Originally from: The Mediterranean
Blooms: Little violet blue flowers cover the stems in early spring. Some varieties have white or pink flowers.
Light: Full sun, part sun.
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: The middle back bed has a large one, and there are two in the Mariposa Center Garden.

Rosemary is a classic Mediterranean climate plant, and popular for good reason. It's very drought tolerant, it has a tidy upright or cascading form depending on the cultivar, and thick, aromatic evergreen foliage with small flowers that are just a bonus. Grow it to eat, or as a well-behaved shrub in your dry garden.

The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, derived from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" because in many locations it needs no water other than the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live. And you'd better believe it. In sunny Potrero Hill we have several rosemary plants at PG and on the roastingly-hot and zero water Mariposa Center Garden that are happy as can be.

The aromatic scent of rosemary wafts around the garden in hot sun, when rain hits them, or if you brush past. And oh that smell! Reminds me of all the roasted meats and delicious stews and barbecues I've ever had.

Aside from it's many culinary uses, rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance. It's been found that carnosic acid, found in rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. So I guess there's some truth to the memory thing.

Wikipedia syas:
"In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew, it was a good omen for the union and family. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieves says “A rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.” If a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love.

Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb. Several herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. They were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly."

I have to say that your average wench in the Middle Ages probably had bad teeth and foul breath and never bathed, so a nice scented poppet went a long way to making her more attractive!

UPDATE June 2016:
Rosemary is one tough plant. Seems drought proof! Just remember to keep it pruned into shape each year after flowering.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today I went and picked up some twigs from Leah's house as a Valentine's gift to the garden. Well OK I was meant to do it a week ago but you know how a full time job and a three hour round trip every evening to bandage a lame horse in Pacifica can reduce your free time to zero. Right?

Luckily I was able to dump the twigs on the sidewalk and run as Emily came to the garden to relocate them to a better spot. Now, what shall we use them for?

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Dendromecon rigida
(Bush Poppy)
Well spring doesn't start til late March but it sure feels springy around here. very warm and sunny today, after a light rain yesterday, and the whole garden smells great. Especially the cherry plum trees whose pink canopy is lovely to sit under.

Today Matt and I went up to check on the Mariposa Center Garden after last week's work, and all the new plants look fantastic. Emily watered them earlier in the week and they seem to be settling in well.

Lavatera "Barnsley"
Lots of flowers to be seen in that garden, from Dietes to Dendromecon, Lavatera to Chasmanthe. With a bit of luck the new plants will take off and fill the gaps and the remaining work in that area will just be picking up trash and weeding occasionally. I hope we get lots of rain in the coming weeks as carrying water to that spot is a bit of a pain!

We headed up to P Garden afterwards and pottered around a bit. Pretty soon we were joined by Emily and Ryan and their dog Bentley.

Dietes bicolor
Matt removed all the leftover pots and so on from the area where the old shed was. We'll plant that area up soon - it's very hot and dry there so you can expect to see cacti and yuccas and so on there.

Matt next took a length of leftover wire fencing down to the Mariposa Center Garden and used it to enclose the gap in the fence Emily and I put up last year. With a bit of luck that'll prevent too much human or dog traffic from damaging the new plantings in that spot.

Lavatera assurgentiflora
(Island Mallow)
I planted some plants that had been waiting a while: A Euonymus japonica "Chollipo Gold" went in behind an Agave attenuata where the old rose "Whisky Mac" used to be. I pulled a lot of weeds in that area too, and while digging a hole for the Euonymus discovered a large piece of urbanite buried in the ground. After a lot of prying I had to get Matt to help lift it out and set it upright as a sort of small terrace.

No more "Whisky Mac"
A Pennisetum setaceum "Rubrum" went in the other side of the left bed to add more purple color by the Artemisia "Powis Castle," and Matt removed a large weed that has been masquerading as a nice plant for way too long nearby.

I noticed the terraces were looking remarkably weed-free. Emily tells me it must have been Carlin at work. What a nice surprise!

Agave and Euonymus instead!
Emily planted a Helleborus x sternii near the bench and a Salvia canariensis on the far right end of the brights bed and moved two Glaucium flavum (Yellow Horned Poppy) to the terraces where they'll appreciate the extra sun.

I got everything watered in and - voila!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The Mariposa Center Garden was the focus of our volunteer day today - this is Emily's project garden and today is Emily's birthday, so that was appropriate!  We moved all our tools down there and set to work in the warm sunshine with a great crew: Emily, Debbie, Matt, Leslie, Eliot, Nate, Paloma and "other" Emily. ;)

First task was to remove weeds and trash. Leslie, Emily and Debbie worked on that. Second task was to fill in the hole left under the recently repaired fence with dirt. Matt wheelbarrowed several loads of dirt and rocks down, and Nate used the digging bar to loosen the existing dirt and level the area.

In the meantime, water was being applied to settle the new dirt, and to the existing plants on the garden, since it's been such a shockingly dry winter so far.

Next came the plants. We added several specimens to fill in the spaces left by the Dendromecons and Lupinus that just didn't make it on that hot dry spot. Here's what we planted:

2 Artemisia pyenocephala (Sandhill Sage)
1 Cistus aguliari
3 Cleome isomeris (syn. Isomeris arborea)
1 Lavatera assurgentiflora
5 clumps of Dietes bicolor

The transformation in the area of the gap is amazing - hopefully those plants will take off and fill in their spots quickly. Right now the Chasmanthe and Echiums are looking lovely, the rosemary bushes are lush and the Arctostaphylos and other Dietes are doing great.

Eliot swept the sidewalk and we all put away the tools. Matt pruned back the Dahlia imperialis and Janet and Debbie got some cuttings to take home. We all ate a few cupcakes in honor of Emily's birthday, and the day was done.
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