An Alameda Garden: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Save the Oaks in Berkeley

It seems to be a sad fact of modern life that more and more often we wake up to find some slice (or great big chunk) of the natural world under threat of eradication. It's happening again, and close to home too.

In Berkeley the University of California is planning to tear down a woodland grove of Coast Live Oaks (at least one estimated to be 200-300 years old), a massive Bay tree, and several Redwoods. And for what reason? To build a new sports training facility. Sure, that's what the world needs--fewer oaks, more jocks!

This urban forest is a well-established and thriving ecosystem. Normally, the Coast Live Oaks would be protected under the City of Berkeley's Live Oak Protection Ordinance, but because the university is a state institution, it has declared that it does not need to abide by the local ordinance.

An effort has sprung up to persuade the University of California to reconsider. There are at least two other sites that the university could consider for building this new sports facility, but without significant public pressure, it's doubtful that they will revise their plans and leave the oaks in place. If you're interested in joining a grass-roots citizens' campaign to protect this woodland, visit Save the Oaks at the Stadium to learn more and participate in their efforts.

Berkeley is a wonderful, weird place that feels like it's always teetering on the sharp edge between wonderland and an insane asylum. It really needs to hang on to every scrap of nature it can, just to keep it from spinning off the face of the planet.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I've been wanting to set up a small fountain in my garden for a long time and I've been working on it bit by bit, trying to do it as inexpensively as possible. I found a small bamboo spout and filter/pump last year for about $20, but it took much longer to find the right size and type of container. I've been searching for things to use in the garden that have a bit of an Old California look, which means a Mexican style (which is influenced greatly by Spanish style, which is influenced greatly by Moorish style, etc.), but I couldn't find a glazed pot with no drainage hole in that style. The closest I could find was a large pot at Cost Plus for about $25. It looks to me like it's Southeast Asian in style (Indonesian perhaps, or Thai), but the face on the pot reminded me slightly of the Mayan face carvings I saw years ago in the Yucatan area. At any rate, it was interesting, the right size, and the right price, so I got it.

I set the fountain up a few months ago, using a pot of horsetail reed as the only plant in it. It looked a little bare. And I'm afraid I was a little slipshod about the maintenance recently, resulting in a lot of nasty algae building up. A pond with algae loses much of its appeal, although Linus the cat seemed to like playing with the gross green scum floating around in it.

So this weekend I made it my mission to improve the fountain. In order to make it look a bit more lush I purchased a variegated acorus to go beside the horsetail. This morning I took the whole thing apart, scrubbed it out, and reassembled it. This is the result:
You will notice the slightly handicapped concrete frog to the right of the fountain. This frog used to reside in my grandmother's backyard in a little grotto that my grandfather built in the corner. When I was about nine, we moved to a house that had a pond in the backyard that had been filled in. We spent an Easter vacation digging out the pond, cleaning it up and refilling it with water and fish, and then my grandmother brought the frog over to stand guard at the edge of the pond. When we moved from that house several years later, the frog went back to my grandmother's house, where in an unfortunate accident the gardener accidentally amputated its forearms with a weed-whacker. After my grandmother died and the family was closing up her house, I brought the frog back to my apartment where it lived in a cramped hallway (and then after I'd stubbed my toe on it a few times, in an even more cramped closet) until I moved to this house four years ago. At long last, the concrete frog, now named Venus de Frog-o, has found another pond to stand guard at.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

First Blush and a Second Try

The volunteer tomatoes, which appear to be Roma, are finally starting to color up. The three plants don't have much fruit at all so far--not much more than a dozen tomatoes on each plant, and only a few more flowers. Pretty slim pickings compared to past years. I don't like tomatoes, so I say this with much less disappointment than most tomato-growers would feel. Still, it would be nice to get enough to pass on to friends and family and still make a bit of sauce to freeze.

I have tried a couple times to grow Roma bush beans and each time the results have been dismal--small, stunted bushes with just a few itty-bitty, curled up beans. Now I'm trying Roma pole beans (recently delivered from Pinetree Garden Seeds). I planted two 5-gallon containers with the seeds a week ago and another five poles of them in the ground in between the roses. The ones in the ground are barely making an appearance, but those in the containers are growing well. I should be able to harvest beans by early October, which would give them about a full month to keep producing before the weather significantly cools.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

More August Crap

Hanna of This Garden Is Illegal recently posted that her garden "looks like August crap." Well, to that I say, "mine too!" and thank goodness for the honesty of garden bloggers.

Hanna attributes her current situation to the effects of the summer heat and lack of planning. Both those phenomena have contributed to my garden's lackluster state. But I have to admit to a third category as well: gardener errors. In fact, I seem to spend a lot of my gardening time wondering what bonehead thing I'm going to do next.

One case in point is the sweet peas. I planted them late (error #1), I didn't pinch them back (just learned about doing this on a gardening show this morning--error #2), I let them get overwhelmed first by volunteer tomato seedlings and later by poppies (error #3), and I didn't act when I noticed that they were getting hit by powdery mildew (possibly due to being up against a stucco-covered wall that held on to the moisture--error #4). The result was this:

I had hoped this entire wall would be covered with sweet peas, but the results have been a few scraggily vines and less than a dozen blooms so far. I'll be ripping them out soon. I may try to grow a late crop of haricot verts in their place, although I may find that they will have all the same problems.

There are more problem spots I could show, and I will, but not today. It's too depressing. There are a few successes as well. The passion flower vine is now healthy and full and steadily putting out a couple new blooms every day. The salvia is growing like crazy (actually, it's taking over the strawberry bed) and it's attracting hummingbirds. The roses are blooming, not exactly abundantly, but better than in past years. The clematis is done blooming now but it was spectacular and I look forward to more of the same in future years.

Hanna listed three things she was going to do to try to correct her August garden situation in the future: 1) cruise the neighborhood to see what's blooming in the area and include those plants in her garden, 2) plant more annuals, and 3) incorporate more colorful foliage. Those are all good ideas and I'm going to try to follow her lead. But I also have to remind myself that I am planting more perennials in my garden each year, and that each year things will grow more established, more colorful, and eventually more lush.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Forgiving Fuchsia

These first fuchsia blooms are evidence that gardening can be a very forgiving endeavor if you're just patient enough. Last summer I took a cutting from a fuchsia in my friend Mark's garden, stuck it in some rooting hormone and popped it in a six-pack filled with potting soil. I kept it watered in semi-shade and it did ... well, pretty much nothing. After a few months of no growth I thought it might do better if I transplanted it to a 4-inch pot, but in a moment of bleary-eyed gardening I accidentally planted it in a pot filled with straight composted manure instead of potting soil. (Don't try this at home.) I can't remember how long it was before I realized my mistake, but I know it was a matter of weeks. By the time I figured out what I'd done and went to repot it, it looked exactly the way any of us would look if we'd been stuck in a pot of manure--shocked, to say the least. I thought for sure it was ultimately destined for the compost bin, but I put it in a 4-inch pot of potting soil anyway and watered it and just left it alone. About two months ago I noticed some new growth and repotted it again, this time in a plastic pot inside a ceramic pot with no drainage hole, so it stays more evenly moist. Happy at last, the plant shot up and out and put on buds. I am redeemed.
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