An Alameda Garden: July 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Mesclun That Was

I noticed a few days ago that the newest batch of mesclun that I'd planted was looking a bit more sparse than a week ago, but it's been one of those weeks when I didn't have time for anything more than watering and a cursory look around the garden. So I made a mental note that I needed to check it out more closely. Note to myself: My mental notepad reached full capacity ages ago. I need to forget about taking mental notes now.

Today when I went out to water barely any of the lettuces were left:

When I got up close and personal I found that an entire of colony of little green caterpillars were going to town on the last few bits of plant life remaining. I'm not sure what they are (cutworms maybe?) but it looked like they'd brought the kids and a large contingent of their extended family and all were having a swell picnic in my pot of mesclun. Well, there's no better way to end a picnic than with a swim. I spent the next fifteen minutes scooping them out one by one with a fork and drowning them in a container of hot soapy water. I hope I got them all because I hate to split up a family.

Does anyone know of any other ways to take care of these creepy things? Would diatomaceous earth work?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

One thing I definitely hope to add more of in my garden is oriental lillies. I think they're spectacular--the scent, the splashy color, the slightly ruffled edges to the petals. I like all of it. I started with just two Stargazer lillies planted earlier this year and the first buds on one of them has just opened. I think the buds got a little toasted in the recent heat wave, so they aren't perfect, but still ... wow!

And I'm not the only one who loves them. My cat Linus greeted me today with his white mustache dyed orange from the lilly's pollen. Apparently he finds the scent irresistable too.

Black Spots on the Pepper?

While checking on the progress of the bell peppers this morning, I noticed several tiny black spots on one of them. Since there are only two peppers so far, any sign of trouble is worrisome. I've never seen something like this. Anyone know what the spots are? Pest? Disease? Tiny freckles from too much sun?

Please advise!

Monday, July 24, 2006

How Do You Spell Relief? F-O-G!

After several days of temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, we finally got a little relief late this afternoon when the fog rolled in through the Golden Gate and over the bay. Skies are still clear here, but just having the fog offshore sends in cooling breezes that are more welcome than I can say.

During the heat wave I did nothing in the garden except try to keep things watered enough. I can usually get by watering every third day. When things get warm, I need to kick it up to every other day. But between the extreme heat and the sandy soil here, even that wasn't enough. On Saturday in an effort to be a little more environmentally friendly, I tried to redirect the water outflow from my washing machine into a few 5-gallon buckets to water the yard with. I learned two things by doing this: 1) My tiny, supposedly water-efficient washing machine still uses more water than I thought (somewhere around 25 gallons for one load); and 2) it's really easy to flood my laundry room. I'll need to rig up something a little more error-proof if I want to do this again.

One garden-related thing that I did do recently is join a few friends from my landscape-hort class to tour a couple gardens created by Keeyla Meadows, a landscape designer and artist in nearby Albany. The gardens were amazing--lush and colorful, lots of different textures and layers of planting, and some really fun sculptures tucked in for added zing. Seeing her gardens, I was reminded that I need to plant more densely and use more of each plant for greater impact. My tendency is to just put one plant here and another plant there and the result is that nothing really stands out. I wish I could post pictures from the tour but I forgot my camera (doh!). But do click the link above to check out Keeyla's web site and see some samples of her garden design. Thanks to Keeyla for graciously allowing us to visit, and thanks to Yuriko for setting it up!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Inconvenient, Scary-As-Hell Truth

I finally got a chance to see the movie An Inconvenient Truth today. I'm sure many of you have already seen this documentary of Al Gore's lecture presentations on global warming. If you haven't, you must. The way I just described it in the previous sentence probably makes it sound very boring. It isn't--it's essential.

Let's put aside the issue that if the 2000 election had been settled by the voters instead of the Supreme Court we would have Al Gore, an intelligent, thinking man, in the White House instead of the inarticulate, simple-minded, chancellor-groping frat boy who currently resides there (when he's not playing cowboy in Texas). It's possible that Al Gore may actually have a more lasting and significant impact on the world by not being president and by instead doing exactly what he's doing now--explaining over and over again to audiences all over the world about the grave peril we face from global warming, how it is caused, how it is measured, what will happen if we do nothing, and what we can do in our own lives, every day, to make a difference.

There was so much good, clear information presented in the film and many experts have verified that the science behind it is very solid. The film uses terrific--and in some cases, terrifying--graphics to make clear exactly what is at stake. The part that hit me hardest was seeing a series of computer projections of how land maps will be redrawn over the next century by rising sea waters caused by melting glaciers. I watched a map of the San Francisco Bay Area completely change before my eyes as waters swept over much of the perimeter of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Marin County. And Alameda? Alameda will be completely underwater. My hometown erased--it doesn't get much more personal than that.

I won't go into a lot of detail about the issue--there's plenty of information out there and the movie has a great web site at with lots of suggestions for how each of us can take action. But begin with this: If you haven't seen the film, click the pledge icon on the right side of this blog page, and commit to seeing An Inconvenient Truth as soon as you can. (If you live outside of the U.S., click here for release dates overseas.) There is much to be done--and to undo.

Can You Name This Plant?

Once again, I call upon the collective wisdom in the gardening blogosphere to help me identify another volunteer plant in my garden. Here it is.
It currently stands about 18-20 inches high. It has tiny white blossoms and it's also showing some signs of leaf curl (that alone makes me think I should yank it, but I'd still like to know what it is first). Any guesses?

Bloom Report

Just some quick coverage of a couple notable blooms currently in my garden:

Finally! An actual sweet pea! I planted these seeds on April 25, so it took almost three months to get to this point. I thought they would grow much faster, but so far the tallest plants are only about 3 feet high and there aren't very many buds. It might be that this spot does not get quite enough sun. Can anyone tell me if these reseed themselves easily, or do I need to make a point of saving the seeds?

The red oriental poppies are blooming away now and one of the plants has white spots in the center, which make them even more attractive. I think poppies are going to be permanent residents in my garden.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where Is Our Bob Flowerdew?

Today's Washington Post has a great article on Britain's Bob Flowerdew, organic gardener, author, and star on the BBC's radio show, "Gardeners' Question Time." He sounds like the real thing, and in a nation that still takes gardening seriously, that must truly be saying something.

So it got me to wondering: where is our Bob Flowerdew? Does NPR even have a gardening show? If they do, I've never heard of it. If they did, I might finally start listening to NPR. (None of my friends can understand why I don't listen to NPR, since the fact that I'm a frequent viewer of PBS and a news junkie in general would seem to make me an ideal NPR devotee. The reason I don't listen? Those monotone, droning voices! Those NPR parodies that Saturday Night Live did a few years back were just a bit too spot on.)

But getting back to Bob Flowerdew ... I think the reason we don't have a Bob Flowerdew here in the U.S. (and no, as much as I like Paul James, I don't think he has nearly the kind of celebrity status or industry following that it sounds like Flowerdew has) is that Flowerdew has something in the U.K. that nobody in the USA has--a significant audience. According to the Post, "Gardeners' Question Time" has an audience of 2 million in a country of 60 million. To translate that kind of audience to the U.S. (with a population of 299 million), a gardening guru would have to have an audience of 10 million. According to USA Today, that would be equal to the audience of last week's #2 top-rated broadcast TV show (god help us), "So You Think You Can Dance."

There's been a lot of talk in the garden blogs of late, particularly at Garden Rant, that gardening is really a much more popular pastime in the U.S. than is commonly believed. Well, bless them for the thought, but I am doubtful, at least about how things currently stand. There are some hopeful signs, however. People are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of pesticides and the growing demand for organic produce is bound to drive some people into their gardens. But I still see the time crunch that most Americans live with and the ridiculous prices for homes and land in urban/suburban areas to be the main factors that keep most people from gardening.

Is it possible, though, that if there was an American Flowerdew--someone knowledgeable, funny, charismatic, and (it goes without saying) organic--that he could be the pied piper to seduce more of us into taking up the shovel and rake? That he (or she, of course) could actually grow the audience?

Well, maybe. But that's really one of those "chicken or egg" questions, and hen blogging is beyond my purview.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Vegetable Sitings

It's not just a slim hope anymore. Actual vegetables have appeared in my garden. Everything seems to be happening so late this year and the plants themselves are much smaller than in previous years, so I was doubtful that there would be anything to harvest at all.

Each of the three tomato plants has a couple of tiny tomatoes. There are quite a few more buds and I think I might go out there with a soft little paintbrush and try to help the pollination process along a bit. Can't hurt, I guess.

There is also one pepper on one of the bell pepper plants. These plants are rather puny so I'm surprised that one is producing at all. This weekend I'm going to give everything a shot of fertilizer and see if it helps.

On the other hand, I'm ready to declare the corn a failure and toss the pathetic little shoots in the compost bin. I have some cabbage seedlings to transplant soon, and I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my seed order from I'm looking forward to trying the Super Marconi pole beans (instead of the Roma bush beans I've repeatedly tried and failed with) and the "perpetual spinach" chard.

I'm hoping that we'll have a long Indian summer this year to make up for the dismal spring, so that I'll still have time get some actual crops going instead of one pathetic little plant here and another one there. I feel like I'm giving new meaning to the term "micro farming"--as in "microscopic harvest."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Urban Outsiders

Perhaps HGTV actually heard some bloggers' complaints that they weren't doing a very good job in the gardening department because they've imported Matt James from the U.K. to dig up a little dirt here in the states.

I've been a fan of James' British show "The City Gardener," which HGTV has been airing lately. The idea is that he takes small, completely neglected urban spaces (usually they're more of a courtyard than a yard) and transforms them into rather lush, relaxing retreats for their owners (who generally haven't got a clue about anything related to gardening). The new American show, "Urban Outsiders," seems to be exactly the same format and the American homeowners are equally clueless.

Although the garden designs on "The City Gardener" seemed to me to lack variety (in the style/design, that is, not in the plants) and the "Urban Outsiders" debut show tonight seemed to be following the same pattern, I like James' shows because he's clearly crazy about plants. And he does something that few designers on HGTV (and perhaps in real life as well) seem to do--he considers the needs and wants of the clients and designs accordingly.

And he's cute.

And I admit it--I'm a sucker for the accent.

Give the show a try.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Keeping On Keeping On

No major happenings (good or bad) going on in the garden these days. I seem to be lacking either the time or the energy to tackle any of the myriad projects I have in mind, so I'm just doing the 3 W's: watering, weeding, and wandering around aimlessly thinking that I should be getting more accomplished.

This is all I have to show for my efforts today. I weeded BH's garden, cut back the bleeding hearts, and planted some catmint that I bought about a week ago. This bed doesn't look like much right now because everything has bloomed out and I'm waiting for the iris and the freesia to completely die down. But there's a stargazer lilly shooting up in the back and hopefully the catmint will fill out quickly. Any suggestions for some compact, late summer bloomers I can fill in with?

Friday, July 07, 2006


I was beginning to think they'd never bloom. But this morning I went out back to find this beautiful poppy. Just the one bloom so far, but there are several more buds on this plant. I sowed seeds for both Shirley Poppies and Oriental Poppies in this bed. I believe the black splotches at the center mean this is an Oriental.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Corner Bed Makeover--Part One

Having finally identified the enormous mystery plants in my corner bed, it was time for them to meet their fate. Late Sunday afternoon I started ripping them out. It turns out there were close to ten of the things growing in the little nightshade jungle I had going there. I intended to take out all of them, but when I came to the last (and largest) one I stood back and considered it for a while. With some open space around it I could see that it had developed a fairly thick, short trunk that branched out rather gracefully. If I yanked it the corner was going to be really bare. In the end, I gave it a reprieve.

While I was at it, I ended up ripping out the nasturtiums too. I do this a lot with nasturtiums and I've come think of it as normal. I like nasturtiums but I find that just at the time they fill out and bloom heavily, they also manage to look scraggily at the same time. I started out just cutting them back, but I got a little carried away and they all found their way into the green recycling bin. There were many seeds left behind so I know they'll come back and that's fine with me.

Today I completed the clean-up. The bed is now completely weeded for the first time this year. And Linus the cat, who has lost his little jungle hang-out, is not happy. This is what the bed looks like now:

What's left there now are (from left to right): an amaryllis, a calla, three primroses, the nightshade shrub/tree, a wild geranium, a cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), a lilac (which will be moved to a sunnier spot in the winter), a Phygelius macrophylla, and some lobelia that has sprung up at the base of a rose. Obviously, I need some taller plants in the back, so I bought some amaranth seeds (Love Lies Bleeding) to plant there and I'm going to try some pole beans up along the fence. I plan to transplant a couple of nicotiana and some dianthus that I have in pots into the middle part of the bed. But I'm getting ahead of myself--that's Part Two of the makeover.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Massive Mystery Plant Identified

Since the biggest mystery plant in my garden is now approaching 7 feet tall, I decided that one of my goals for the weekend had to be getting it identified and making a decision about what to do with it. It's not an unattractive plant, loosely shrubby with small purple flowers. My cat, Linus, loves to hang out underneath it.

But it drops seed pods constantly, far more than I can keep up with, and it isn't actually one plant in this corner, it's several. It's like seeing enemy forces on the horizon in ever-increasing numbers.

So I pruned off a branch and headed over to my favorite nursery in Alameda, Thomsen's Nursery, to ask for help. They immediately identified the genus--Solanum--and warned me that it was in the same family as nightshade and probably poisonous.

When I got home, I checked the Sunset Western Garden Book and the Internet and was able to narrow it down further to Solanum aviculare, also known as Kangaroo Apple. It's described as an evergreen shrub, native to Australia and New Zealand, that grows fast to 6-10 feet (I can testify to that!). The flowers and foliage are indeed poisonous, although it apparently has edible, though not necessarily tasty, fruit in the fall. And this is really interesting--it is used in the pharmaceutical industry as a source of steroids. I believe it. This plant acts like it's on steroids--pumped up and aggressive.

So once again, I'm faced with the question: Does it stay or does it go? I think I already know the answer, but Linus isn't going to like it.

Almost Blooming

Things are at a sort of in-between stage in my garden in terms of flowers. Of course, the old stand-bys, like the geranium and the nasturtium, are still shooting out blossoms at a steady rate. But most everything else seems to be between shifts. The bulbs are through for the year, the roses have buds but no flowers at the moment, the sweet peas are being dreadfully slow about growing up at all.

But then there are a few things just about to open that have really captured my interest. One of the foxgloves that I planted this spring is shooting forth a white spire of buds. I thought foxgloves only bloomed in their second year. Could I have a prodigy on my hands?

Then there is the canna. I got this as a start this spring in my landscape hort class (one of the benefits of this program is that teachers and students alike are happy to share their bounty). I didn't know what color it would be, or whether it was a dwarf canna or standard-sized. But now I see a bright red bloom ready to explode and I can't wait to see how it develops.

And finally, there is yet another volunteer, although this is one have in the garden. I don't know whether it crept under the fence from my I'm happy to neighbor's yard or was planted by birds, but it's had me curious for a few months now. Before the bud appeared I feared it was going to be a gladiola. I can't stand gladiolas since I can't help but think of them as funeral flowers. But it looks now like it's a crocosmia, and I'm anxious to see exactly what shade these tight, orange-red buds open to.
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