Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Wildlife Profile: Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

Common name: Swallowtail, Anise Swallowtail 
Latin name: Papilio zelicaon - "pah-PILL-ee-oh ZELL-ee-con"
Size: Wingspan ranging from 52 to 80 mm (2.0 to 3.1 in)
Description: A pale yellow and black butterfly with striking blue and red spots.
Geographical distribution: Western North America

We regularly see this lovely butterfly at the gardens - it's a common butterfly of western North America. It's has a striking look - you might call it a black butterfly with a yellow stripe or a yellow butterfly with black edges. Both the upper and lower sides of its wings are black, but the upper wing has a wide yellow stripe across it There are bright blue spots on the rear edge of the rear wing, and it has tiny tails pointing down from those wings too, giving it the swallowtail name.

Bright yellowish-orange to red eyespots near the tails of each wing each contain a black pupil. This pattern is thought to be a form of mimicry where a spot on the body of an animal resembles an eye of a different animal to scare off predators, or even draw a predator's attention away from the prey's most vulnerable body parts (in this case a butterfly would rather get pecked wings than a pecked body.) They might even make the butterfly look inedible or dangerous.

The Anise Swallowtail likes open areas - bare hills or mountains, fields and roadsides, in towns and in gardens or vacant lots. From British Columbia and North Dakota at its northern extreme, south to the Baja California Peninsula and other parts of Mexico, it's occasionally also seen in the southeastern United States, but its normal range does not extend east of New Mexico.

Adult females lay eggs singly on the undersides of host plant leaves. The caterpillar starts out dark brown, almost black, with an irregular white band at its middle. After that, it becomes more green at each successive molt until it's almost all green, with markings in black, orange, and light blue. And guess what it likes to eat? Members of the carrot family, including fennel - our most hated weed - as the common name suggests. So I have to say we encourage that... more swallowtails for everyone!


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter weeding week

Look - a butterfly! Wait, what was I going to say? Oh yes. Every year around the holidays Matt and I try to get as much garden work done as we can.

This year we have been weeding, pruning, and also planting. And this week we planted the following:

1 large Agave tequilana "Sunrise" to replace the Agave weberi "Reiner's Selection" that flowered in the brights bed.

1 Agave mapisaga "Lisa" to replace the Agave weberi that flowered by the sidewalk. Per the photo it looks really small now... haha... but it's one of the biggest Agaves in the world so WATCH OUT!

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus at the top of the garden

3 Artemisia "Powis Castle" in the middle left bed

2 Yucca guatemalensis at PRG

I also cut back the Salvia canariensis at the top of PG and ripped out piles of weeds... how satisfying!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloe "David Verity"

Latin name: None - this is a hybrid.
Common name: Aloe "David Verity"
Originally from: hybridized in the USA from African Aloes.
Blooms: Tall spikes with red buds and yellow flowers in winter
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4-6' x 6-8'
Zones: 10a-11
Where to find in P. Garden: Straight in front of you when you're sitting on the bench at PG.

The legendary David Verity passed away at the age of 90 in November 2020. Manager of the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden from the 1960s to the 1990s assisting director Mildred Mathias, he was a widely recognized expert horticulturalist and plant breeder.

Among the various genera he bred like Diplacus (Mimulus), Iochromas, and Echiums, he created a number of Aloe hybrids, mostly larger species. Only one of them carries his name, and it's the one we have at PG: Aloe "David Verity" and it was given to us by Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens. This plant was selected and named by UCLA Biology professor Boyd Walker, who grew out some of Dave Verity's hybrids at his Pacific Palisades garden.

The parentage of this Aloe is thought to be a cross between an Aloe arborescens hybrid with Aloe × principis, which is a natural hybrid between Aloe arborescens and Aloe ferox that is also known as Aloe salm-dyckiana

It's flowering for the first time now, and it is gorgeous. The branching multi-colored flower spikes pop up above the blue-green leaves with light pinkish buds in a spiraled pattern. The buds darken to red before the flowers begin opening in a soft yellow from the bottom of the spike to the top, giving a two tone effect that's pretty spectacular.

Well drained soil, full sun and pretty much no water will suit this plant, so it's perfect for your low water garden, though in very hot areas it will need some water in summer. It can even tolerate coastal conditions to some degree, and makes a great focal point.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Weeds vanquished

Another warm, sunny December day in California dawned, and Matt and I headed out to the garden for our monthly volunteer day on Saturday looking forward to meeting friends old and new, and tidying up the gardens.

We were joined by Josh who set about weeding the entire Aloe nobilis hedge along the bottom path, among other piles of weeds. Meanwhile, Matt set about weeding the Agave pup farm behind the Wrong Way sign. As tough as Agaves are, when they get overgrown with damp weeds they can quickly rot out so clearing around them at this time of year is critical.


I pulled a big swath of weeds from the lower path, and new volunteers Kai and his dad Kresh weeded around the bench area with a great deal of gusto (see photo above.) Kai's mom eventually came to take him for a walk, but Kresh stayed on and we removed SO many weeds. Whew!

Great day to be outside, enjoying the gardens.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Plant Profile: Encelia farinosa (Brittlebush)

Latin name:
Encelia farinosa("en-SEE-lee-ah far-in-OH-sah")
Common name: Brittlebush, Goldenhills, Incienso, White Brittlebush (Spanish: Rama Blanca, Incienso, Hierba del Bazo, Hierba [rama] del Bazo, Hierba de Las Animas, Palo Blanco, Hierba Ceniza)
Originally from: northern Mexico and the southwestern United States
Blooms: Yellow, fragrant 2" flowers from February to May and again from August to September.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 12"-36" tall and wide
Zones: 7-24
Where to find in P. Garden: Three have recently been planted in the brights bed.

This common desert shrub of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States is a new one for us. The common name "brittlebush" comes from the fact that the branches are brittle and woody, and contain a fragrant resin.. Another name for it in Spanish is incienso because the dried sap was burned by early Spanish missions in the New World as incense.  

It does well on dry, gravelly slopes and sandy washes, needing a very sunny position in very well-drained soil. Used for border, erosion control, and ground cover, Caltrans has begun to use it in hydroseeding  which has quite dramatically increased its spread.

This plant has big yellow flowers, rich in nectar and it's much appreciated by bees and butterflies, and leaves that are more or less silvery depending on rainfall.  

The hotter and drier the growing season, the smaller and whiter are the leaves produced, which helps the plant cope with water loss.  During dry seasons the plant goes drought deciduous, shedding all of its foliage, and relying on the water stored in its thick stems.

Cutting it back by half after flowering or in fall keep this little shrub looking bushy, and with a bit of luck it will find PG a great place to be.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Oh! What a little rain can do!

It's been a minute... um, actually several month since I posted an update. Why? Boring old work and more work and a bit more work. But we have been at the garden. There have been workdays. In fact we have another coming up this weekend - please join us! (Saturday 10am!)

What have we been up to? Weeding like maniacs! You can see from the pictures here that our amazing volnteers have been working hard to get ahead of what's going ot be a big year for weeds after our early storm.

We have also been planting lots of things! In the last months a slew of plants have gone in, among them the following:

3 Euphorbia mauritanica 

3 Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus

3 Agave cupreata (at PRG) 

3 Artemisia "Powis Castle" 

1 Ficus benjamina tree that outgrew it's pot at home and will make a great street tree, if it survives...

Several various Agaves in various places, and probably some Yuccas too!

We've also been removing yucca flowers. Why? Well someone has made it a habit to go to the garden and cut the flowers off the yucca plants, presumably to eat. Yes, you can eat the flowers - deep fried or in an omelette or in lots of other ways.

Unfortunately, whoever has been taking the flowers has not been thoughtful - they go through and break down branches or whole trees just to get one flower, which you can see in the image left. 

Yes, eventually we can replant the branch and the tree will resprout from the base, but at least for the next couple of years that plant will look bad.  Not cool, and very selfish, when we are working so hard to make this area of the city look better. So we are removing the flowers before someone steals them and trashes the garden more.

In other news, the tool chest got broken into and a big mess was made - Matt took it apart and reinforced it thoroughly this time, so hopefully these ridiculous acts stop happening. We don't leave anything valuable in there but there's a limit to the capacity of our truck so bringing EVERYTHING back and forth from our house every work day isn't doable.

Someone also decided to dump the contents of their weed growing operation at the garden, making a mess we had to clean up. Not the first time this has happened - we always have piles of trash to remove each workday, when we'd rather be gardening. Well, if you ever wonder why there are weeds now you know - we have to clean trash or pull weeds: there's not always time for both!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Plant Profile: Furcraea selloa marginata (Wild Sisal)

Latin name: Furcraea selloa marginata ("fur-KRAY-ah sell-OH-ah marj-in-AH-tah") 
Common name: Wild Sisal, Variegated False Agave

Originally from: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Blooms: Monocarpic with 20 foot tall flower stalks in spring.
Light: Full sun to part sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 10' x 10'
Zones: 9b - 11
Where to find in P. Garden: Several are planted at PRG, in the left bed

It's an agave on a stick, basically. By that I mean it grows a trunk, which will be quite epic, if you have the patience - stick around for a couple decades to see what happens! If you can't wait that long see the photo at left (not our plant. Or greenhouse) - quite impressive, right?

Unless you walk near it, or fall in it: those leaves are lined with hooked spines, and the effect will likely not be impressive so much as painful. Perfect for a plant that has to survive on the street, to be fair.

Similar to an agave it's monocarpic, meaning it flowers and then dies. The flowers are green, and held on a 20' tall flower spike which will be ultra cool. After that, bulbils (mini plants) are produced along the flower stem, which in the wild would fall on the ground and root. No fiddling around with seeds here! This plant also creates pups at the base (which is why we have quite a few plants.)

As the common name Wild Sisal suggests, the fibers extracted from the leaves of Furcraeas can be used to make twine, rope, cloth, tapestries, mats, hammocks and sacks. However, real sisal is made from Agave sisalana. They just look pretty similar... hence the name confusion.

Another use for Furcraeas is saponins - those bitter tasting organic chemicals that are foamy and used for making soap.

This plant was thought to have come from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, though no current specimens have been found growing in the wild in Central America, so it's a bit of a mystery.  It certainly has the glossy-leaved tropical look to it, and with very low water requirements is a great choice for SF's water deprived gardener looking for a jungly effect.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Plant Profile: Perovskia atriplicifolia aka Salvia yangii (Russian Sage)

Latin name: Salvia yangii  ("SAL-vee-ah YANG-ee-eye")
Previously known as:
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Common name: Russian Sage
Originally from: southwestern and central Asia.
Purple flowers from summer to fall.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4'x4'
Zones: 5-9
Where to find in P. Garden: We have several at PRG

Here's a handsome plant. Tall, upright, with aromatic gray-green leaves and violet-blue flowers on delicate spires, it brings a misty purple element to the garden. At the end of the year we cut it to the base, and forget about it until early summer when it bounces back suddenly and puts on a show.

Since 2017 it's been listed with the genus Salvia, but before that we knew it as a Perovskia after the Russian General-adjutant Count Vasily Alekseevich Perovski (left; 1794 - c. 1857) The common name, Russian Sage, makes remembering the Salvia part easier though, and the species part o the name means "with leaves resembling salt-bush."

In 1839 General Perovski led an invasion of the Khanate of Khiva  to free Russian slaves. His expeditionary force consisted of 5,200 infantry and 10,000 camels. So you could see his name is apt for a smart looking, upright and drought tolerant plant.

General Perovski's left forefinger was lost in the Battle of Borodino in 1812 during Napoleon's French invasion of Russia. He was never able to find the missing digit, and it was replaced with gold fillet. If one wanted to make a further comparison with the Russian Sage, one might find something in the need to cut this plant back to the base each year. Perhaps that's a stretch though.

It is native to the steppes and hills of southwestern and central Asia, and does well in a wide range of climate and soil conditions - we find it very drought tolerant. Several cultivars have been developed too, with different leaf shapes and overall heights.

Not strictly ornamental, Wikipedia says "The species has a long history of use in traditional medicine in its native range, where it is employed as a treatment for a variety of ailments. This has led to the investigation of its phytochemistry. Its flowers can be eaten in salads or crushed for dyemaking, and the plant has been considered for potential use in the phytoremediation of contaminated soil."

 We never water ours - I bet if we did it would be even nice. Give it a try in your garden!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

New donations - big impact!

A couple weeks ago we got an email from lovely Susan on Potrero Hill. She had bought some Agave attenuata babies from us years ago, at a plant sale, and they had grown. A lot. In fact, she was ready to have some of her garden space back, so she asked if we could come and repatriate her Agaves to their native lands at PSG.

As we have done this sort of thing before, Matt and I looked at her photos for a split second and then said yes. We drove over with the tools needed and proceeded to remove 5 LARGE plants, and also took home some Aloe maculatas for the garden too.

We got them planted a week ago down at PRG, next to the solo Agave attenuata that we got from John that has been there for a couple years. And can we say they look fabulous? Yes, they do. We need to go back and get one last one from Susan, but meanwhile please stop by and enjoy this gorgeous contribution she has made to our fair city.

In other news, our friend Mat from Farallon Gardens donated a slew of Agave franzosinii, Agave mapisaga, Aloe cameronii and three interesting Erythrina crista-galli plants - a small tree. We're super excited to plant all these - he knows just what we like!

Come on down to the volunteer workday this Saturday to see the newness!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Volunteer day happened and no post?!

The May volunteer day was great - I didn't post about it because the next day our home was burgled and a lot of things stolen. It threw us for a loop, but we are OK.

However, lots got done at the volunteer day so here's a belated post and thank you to everyone who helped! 

First of all Aditi came out to visit which made me very happy. She brought her lovely fluffy pup Coco and we enjoyed a good catch up :)

Next thing that happened was Bill set about cleaning up the lower path. And when Bill sets about something, watch out - that path got cleaned the heck up! Some days I think I would like to clone Bill, though I obviously haven't mentioned this to him because he would think I was literally insane. Don't tell him I said that, OK?

New volunteer Ruth came and showed total spirit in not only attacking the Echium pathway (which went from impassable to impressive) but also in volunteering to help Aditi with some social media plans for PG. Thank you both so much for helping - it's too much for just me! 

As you can see from this pic she is totally up for things - I thought a fun pic would be her jumping for joy after fixing the path and she didn't laugh at me. Good sign!

The tool chest got broken into again - always in a new place - but nothing stolen. So Chris good-naturedly went and got his drill and fixed it. Again. 

I'm pretty sure Chris has had enough of this task, but I hereby declare that if I am ever hit by a bus he can take over decision-making for the tool chest completely and do with it as he pleases, up to and including setting it on fire.

Matt watered the new Cussonias, I weeded a bunch. And lastly John turned the compost, and removed some completed compost and gave it to a hungry tree Aloe. He makes light of this work, but how often do you see me doing it? Answer: never. So I really appreciate that he does it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloiampelos (Aloe) striatula

Latin name: Aloiampelos striatula ("al-oy-am-PEL-oss stree-ah-TOO-lah")
Common name: Hardy Aloe
Originally from: south of the Karoo region of South Africa
Blooms: brilliant yellow inflorescence rises above the foliage typically in late spring into summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 6' x 6' and bigger
Zones: 8a to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: The middle front and middle back beds have examples of this great Aloe (Aloiampelos!)

Aloes come in all shapes and sizes, from little grass-like thingies, all the way up to tree sized beasts. This particular one makes a nice shrub and has clear yellow flowers in late spring, making it a very useful plant to have around.

This particular one used to be called Aloe striatula, but around 2017 the botanists of the world, who like to complicate things (job security?) decided it should be moved into the Aloiampelos genus (combination of 'Aloe' and 'ampelos'=vine or creeper) to go with other climbing aloes. I haven't noticed that climbing trait in this plant, nor did anyone notify me of this change (haha!) so you will see it referred to as Aloe striatula all through this blog.

The plant's Latin species name "striatula" means "little stripes" referring to the thin dark-green stripes that can be seen on the plant's leaf sheaths. Don't mistake it for the similarly named Aloe striata ("coral aloe") though - that's a very different plant.

Aloiampelos striatula naturally occurs in the mountains of the Karoo region of South Africa, between the towns of Graaf-reinet and Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, extending into the Free State and Lesotho. 

It will tolerate a wide range of conditions, and is even known commonly as the "hardy aloe". It will tolerate much colder temperatures than most Aloes and relatives, including frost and even some light snow, but it prefers full sun and well-drained soil. In the Eastern Cape it is often planted along the boundaries of kraals (an animal enclosure), as it naturally forms a well-shaped and hardy hedge. Like other climbing Aloes, it can easily be propagated by cuttings as well as by seed. 

The one we were given originally (left) was an extremely pot-bound, stressed little plant that grew quickly to well over 6' wide; since then I've made lots of cuttings and put them in other areas of the garden

Monday, April 26, 2021

Plant Profile: Agave parryi var. truncata (Artichoke Agave)

Latin name:
Agave parryi var. truncata ("uh-GAH-vay PAR-ee-eye var trun-KA-tah")
Common name: Artichoke Agave
Originally from: From Durango to Zacatecas in Mexico
Blooms: Once, after 10-20 years, a flower spike rises 10 to 20 feet bearing orange buds that open yellow. 
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 3'x3'
Zones: 6-9
Where to find in P. Garden: We have lots all over PG and PRG

This gorgeous Agave is like a huge, blue-gray rosette of spiky, symmetrical wonder. The first one we got came from John and since then we have added to the collection with many more either through collecting them or via pups, which this Agave produces all the time (yay!)

Agave parryi has one of the most extensive ranges of any Agave in the wild, and it has several varieties in various areas. Extending from central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, this species runs all the way south to Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Mexico. It grows on rocky open slopes in grassland, oak woodland, pine and oak forests and Arizona chaparral at elevations from 3000 to 7500 ft.

The variety we have, truncata, is from the southern range of A. parryi, and as a result is more cold sensitive - hardy to around 15° F. Other recognized varieties of A. parryi include A. parryi var. parryi (Parry's agave), A. parryi var. couesii (Coues agave), and A. parryi var. huachucensis (Huachuca agave). These all have longer, slimmer leaves than truncata. I'm not saying truncata is better, but... well, I kinda am.

Another great thing about this Agave species is that it's used to make mezcal (tequila's smokier, more Byronic cousin). Of the 270 species in the Agave genus, 40 to 50 can be used for mezcal production (per Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM) regulations). If you find a bottle made from Agave parryi, let me know!

Monday, April 19, 2021

More garden cleanup happening

Last weekend, we had Tomas and team out to finish up the weeding at PRG and also clean up the Triangle Garden above PG. Things are looking pretty good right now.

Matt and I visited to move some Yucca rostratas that were in the path of PG&E trenching (watch out for that) and to plant some Agave parryi var. truncatas and some Yucca guatemalensis at PRG. We came across Josh weeding away in the sun, and that was nice. We all set about cleaning up the front by the kiosk and it looks alright now - see the before and after pic, left.

I also took some photos of Agaves getting ready to flower at PG. Some of the big ones are going to go for it this year! They are, clockwise from top left, Agave tequilana "Sunrise", Agave parryi truncata, Agave weberi, and Agave weberi "Reiner's Selection"

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Plant Profile: Cistus x skanbergii (Pink Rockrose)

Latin name: Cistus x skanbergii ("SISS-tuss x skan-BERG-ee-eye")
Common name: Pink Rockrose
Originally from: A natural hybrid of C. monoseliensis and C. parviflorus that happens where two species overlap in Greece and Sicily.
Blooms: Pale pink flowers 1" across blanket the plant in spring and summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 2-3' x 4-5'
Zones: 9-11
Where to find in P. Garden: One in the middle front bed at PG

This plant is an unassuming little star. A tidy, low-growing sun and heat-loving evergreen shrub with soft gray-green foliage. In spring it's covered in delicate papery pink flowers with a gold center. Tolerates drought, poor soil, and total neglect, deer don't like it, and  it can handle seaside conditions too. I expect it would even tidy your garden shed for you if you asked nicely.

You can shear it back in late summer for a fall rebloom and enjoy this little cutie in your rock garden, along gravel paths, on banks, slopes and anywhere too dry for the average plant. It's a great groundcover and won't give you any trouble.

This plant was originally described as a species by Italian botanist Michele Lojacono Pojero (1853-1919) but it is now considered to be a natural hybrid between Cistus monspeliensis and C. parviflorus that originates where the two species overlap in Greece and Sicily. 

The name Cistus is from the Greek word 'kistos' which was the name originally used to describe the plant in ancient Greece. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Multi-agency work at PRG coming up

Today at 7.30am Matt and I had a meeting with 7 representatives from Caltrain, PG&E, BBII, and JPB (two construction companies) that are working on installing the low-voltage direct current (DC) third rail system at The PS-1 site (right next to PRG.)

They had informed me that they would need to dig up parts of the garden to add trenching for power, and naturally after many years of inter-agency fusterclucks at the garden resulting in huge damage and even obliteration of certain sections with zero warning, it made me nervous.

However, the scope of this part of the project is smaller - and involves moving a few plants and taking down one large Malva shrub in a two week time frame.

Crisis averted so far...

Above is a picture of Agaves damaged by a homeless person's fire last week at PRG. Sigh.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Yellow flowers at PG

Quick puzzle for you: name these plants and find the nasty weed among them! Send your answers to me on the back of a crisp $100 bill and I will gleefully buy even more plants in your name, whether you win or not!

(Answers are below - no cheating)


Top row, left to right: Aeonium sp, Calendula officinalis, Oxalis pes-caprae (Sourgrass)

Bottom row: Chasmanthe floribunda var. duckittii, Euphrnia charcias, Cytisus scoparius (Scotch Broom)

Which one is the invasive weed? Oxalis AND Scotch Broom! Unless you planted the latter on purpose...

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Rare butterfly sighted

Today Matt and I went to PG and PRG to plant some plants, look at the work done by Tomas and his crew at PRG yesterday, and yes, weed some weeds.

Starting at PRG we uncovered some Agave "Sharkskin" that were being engulfed by Artemisias. You can see the problem in the before and after shot, left.  Agaves don't like to be damp and shaded, and will rot if nearby plants grow over them, so keeping them weeded is important.

After that we planted three gorgeous specimens of Agave ocahui - a lovely donation from Emily who lives on the peninsula. Thanks Emily! Hopefully these three will turn into nice 2' wide plants along the pathway. 

The name "ocahui" was the name was used by the indigenous Sonoran Desert population for "fiber" and "cordage" because the leaf fibers of this Agave were used to make rope. Another common name is Amolillo - a reference to the tradition of making soap from the leaves.

After that, we put in five small Agave "Blue Flame" to go with the four larger ones already in place.  This is a nice, soft, medium-sized agave that pups a lot, so there will be more to come. Always good - we often try to pick Agaves that produce lots of offsets so we will have more in the future.

Lastly we planted two very small Dracaena draco plants. This is the gorgeous and rare Dragon Tree, and we have one at PRG already.  They are painfully slow growing though, and will get to tree size probably after Matt and I are too old to enjoy them. Consider it our gift to future Potrero Hill!

After all that we headed up to PG and took photos and just enjoyed the garden. It's lovely right now - and you might get to see something I saw today, the rare pipevine swallowtail, Battus philen. This stunning black and blue butterfly only lives for a few weeks and only eats California pipevine - you can read more about them, and one man's efforts to help them, here. Why it was at the garden, I don't know, but I really appreciated seeing it. Sorry the photo is so bad!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Weeds demolished!

The weekend's volunteer day was awesome - an entire compost bin of weeds was removed from the garden by Matt, Chris, Josh, Bill and Jenna

In addition to that, two paper bags of weeds were left for pickup by the city. And a couple big tubs full also got composted (i.e. left in a heap to compost down) hidden in the middle of a bed. That's a lot of weeds.

Not to say there aren't a few left over... and by a few I mean a lot. We need help! Happily, we had a crew working down at PRG too, and Tomas and his men weeded about 1/3 of that garden very thoroughly. More on that later.

That said, the gardens are looking very lush right now - flowers galore (Echiums, Aeoniums, Salvias, California poppies, Rockroses, Strelitzias, and more) and everything is growing as fast as it can.

Pre-pandemic we had lots of company VTO days when groups of employees would help weed and it made a huge impact. Right now, in the absence of VTO days, we could use a volunteer workday every week for a month to get things under control.

So, if you've been thinking about coming to help out please do join us. We meet on the first Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm and we provide gloves, tools, and water. 

All you have to do is be like Bill (left)!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloe reitzii (Reitz's Aloe)

Latin name: Aloe reitzii var reitzii ("AL-oh RYEtz-ee-eye VAR RYEtz-ee-eye")
Common name: Reitz's Aloe
Originally from: A very small area on rocky slopes in the grasslands near the Belfast district of Mpumalanga in northern KwaZulu-Natal
Blooms: In summer a huge candelabra of red flowers emerges.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 3' tall x 3' wide
USDA Zones: 8 - 10
Where to find in P. Garden: In the middle front bed

Someone donated a little ceramic pot to the garden way back when we started. In the pot were several succulents, all stuck in place with glued-on gravel. Just the kind of desktop plant torture arrangement designed to be thrown away when the plants inevitably died.

I carefully picked off all the glue and gravel and separated out the plants. One of them was a small aloe of some kind. I potted it up and assumed it would die. To my surprise, it didn't. So it went in the middle front bed, looking very small and vulnerable.

I later found out it was an Aloe reitzii (Reitz's Aloe) - a stemless type of Aloe, that has a single rosette up to 3 feet tall, with long relatively broad silvery blue-green leaves with reddish teeth along the margins. A good medium-sized plant.

The great thing about this Aloe though is that it flowers in summer, unlike most Aloes which are winter flowering. And the flower is great - a huge branching candelabra of orangey-red down-curved flowers that lasts for ages. Every year ours gets more branches and a bigger flowering display.

The summer flowering habit makes it a useful plant in cold areas where the flowers of other Aloes often get frosted off in the winter.

This plant comes from a very small area on rocky slopes in the grasslands near the Belfast district of Mpumalanga in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The entire Belfast district is less than 14 square miles in size, and this Aloe occurs nowhere else.

There is also a winter-blooming form of this plant called Aloe reitzii var. vernalis that comes from The Vryheid District to the south. 

Aloe expert Dr Gilbert W. Reynolds made extensive field trips in search of Aloes in the 1930s-50s, covering more than 150,000 miles on the African continent, Madagascar, and beyond. A Mr. Francis William Reitz pointed out the Aloe to Reynolds, who named it after him in 1937 (or 1943, depending who you ask)

Mr. F. W. Reitz was either the then the South African Minister of Agriculture and nephew of the president of the Orange Free State, or said same president - they shared a name, and the accounts of this naming are vague.  One more reason botanists are rabid for Latin plant naming conventions and there's a lot of squabbling about which plant goes where I guess!

Reitz's Aloe is not difficult to cultivate in the garden or in a container - ours gets full sun and no water. It tolerates both frost (down to 20F) and fire in its natural habitat, and is easily propagated from seed (if you can get them.) Seed grown plants can flower in 5-7 years. Our plant first flowered in about 2009, so now in 2021 it's about 17-19 years old.

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