Friday, December 23, 2016

Plant profile: Bulbine

Latin name: Bulbine frutescens ("BUHL-bin-ee froo-TESS-ens")
Common name: Bulbine, Cat's Tail, Jelly Burn Plant
Originally from: Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland).
Blooms: Orange and yellow flowers are held above the foliage in late spring/early summer.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Although a succulent they seem to prefer occasional water over the summer.
Height x width: 18"x24"
Zones: 8-11
Where to find in P. Garden: We have some dotted around the left bed and brights bed.

The genus Bulbine has about 80 species, which are found mostly in Southern Africa, with a few species extending into tropical Africa, about six in Australia and some in Yemen.

We have two types of the same species, and we used to think one of them was the related genus, Bulbinella. However, it's easy to tell the difference: in Bulbine, the flowers have a fluffy look to their middles. By contrast, Bulbinella are smooth, as they are in most other flowers.

Bulbine frutescens is a nice little perennial with succulent, finger-shaped leaves and lovely delicate yellow flowers. We also have an orange and yellow version.

It's mostly dormant in summer, blooming in the spring, and then again somewhat in fall. It can be propagated easily by stem cuttings which can be planted immediately and kept in a shady area. They do not need any special attention or treatment, and build strong roots in a couple of months.

Bulbine in San Diego
Bulbine frutescens is sometimes commonly called Jelly Burn Plant as it contain glycoproteins, similar to many aloe species, and is touted for similar burn-healing properties as Aloe vera. These properties have also caused it to be called cape balsam (from the Africaans name balsem kopieva) - other common names include snake flower, cat's tail and and geelkatstert. says:
"The fresh leaf produces a jelly-like juice that is wonderful for burns, rashes, blisters, insect bites, cracked lips, acne, cold sores, mouth ulcers and areas of cracked skin. This plant is ideal to grow and is a useful first-aid remedy for children's daily knocks and scrapes. The Rastafarians make an infusion of a few fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water. The strained drink is taken for coughs, colds and arthritis."

These plants prefer full sun, but they will also grow in semi-shade for part of the day. At PG it needs a bit of water - I wouldn't call it really xeric but rather "pretty drought tolerant," and I have to put it places where it will be somewhat damper for it to look good - in the wild some of them grow in quite damp places. It multiplies rapidly in the right conditions. Prune it when untidy, and deadhead for more flowers. For best results it should be planted in well-drained soil preferably enriched with compost.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Another garden anniversary

Aloe arborescens "Lutea"
It's December, and that means that Pennsylvania Garden is a year older. In fact, it's 8 years old!

Matt and I started the garden in early December 2008 when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and rented a place on Pennsylvania Avenue. We planted the following plants:

4 Dietes - still doing great!
8 Agapanthus - a feature at the front of the garden to this day.
3 Hakea suaveolens - two out of the three are now solid trees - one fell over and we have to remove it.
3 Kunzea baxterii - no longer with us, their form was too large and floppy for the spots we planted them.
1 Coprosma australis (variegated) - while it's mostly reverted to plain green, this is a really tough border edging "hedge" we still have.
2 Geranium maderense - this seeded around and may pop back up.
3 Ceanothus "King Sip" (ground covering/low) - still doing great!
2 Geranium macrorhizum - not so drought tolerant... gone!
2 Dianella tasmanica - very drought tolerant but deemed too boring in color. We dug them up and gave them away, but did get a variegated version.
1 Aeonium - still doing great!

Since then, Matt and I have been married and bought a house, and Emily and a host of other volunteers joined us in beautifying the neighborhood. We have endured a few setbacks: severe drought meant we lost a lot of plants as a result, and we saw the Mariposa Center Garden accidentally razed by local developers. Our tools were stolen and plants defaced or stolen, but the overall net result of our efforts has been hugely positive I think.

Together we made the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden happen, and encouraged gardeners to use less water and plant things that like to be dry. We held monthly volunteer days like clockwork, and helped people understand how important gardens are to the mental health of a city - as well as creating a tiny oasis for wildlife!

I hope you'll join us in the garden in 2017. A few minutes spent picking up trash, or pulling weeds, is a gift to your neighbors and your neighborhood that everyone appreciates. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Clean & Green Team At Pennsylvania Garden

Visitors always welcome!
Many thanks to the Clean & Green team from SF Public Works for coming out to Pennsylvania Garden on Saturday. The sun was shining, the air was a bit crisp, and the weeds... so ready to be pulled!

The recent rains have been great for many plants, and a bevy of fluffy weeds is taking over certain parts (ok most...) of Pennsylvania Garden. While I was getting things ready for the crew, May came by with her two cute dogs, who were so excited to be sniffing around the garden. Welcome!

Part of the Clean & Green
Team from SF Public Works
The crew came at 9 am, and after a brief introduction about the garden and a tutorial on weeding, I set everyone to work in the dog area. Hoes and rakes beat back the weeds, and after a few hours, we made a good dent in the weed population.

A small group also weeded near the bench, leaving it looking a bit barren with just dirt, although that is preferred to weeds!

Quite the morning's work!

I will be placing a mulch order soon to get the garden in proper order. Let's all turn out in January to spread mulch!

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