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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Mysteries of the Garden

It's fascinating to me that in a garden as small and simple as mine, there are still inexplicable (to me, at least) phenomena occurring on a regular basis.

Mystery #1: What's with the delphiniums?

I planted these delphiniums from seed last summer (not realizing until very late in the game that they are biennials) and I've been waiting patiently to see those towering spikes of flowers that everyone raves about. Instead, this is what I'm getting:

Little bursts of a half-dozen or so flowerettes scattered all over the place, but no spikes. If anyone can tell me what I'm doing wrong, please advise!

Mystery #2: Have I gone color-blind?

I planted two kinds of dutch iris in January--pink and blue. So how is it that so far all of them look like this:

I see white. I see yellow. I see pale purple. No pink. No blue. Is my garden becoming one big eye exam?

Mystery #3: How come when the weather is good I don't have enough time to be out in the garden?

It was a gorgeous day today. But I've had to spend most of it in front of my computer catching up on work. I did sneak out for about 30 minutes this morning to water and then for another 30 minutes late this afternoon to pot up six of the Roma bean plants I'd started from seed, and get some more seeds going as well: cabbage, petunias, and catnip. The spinach and carrots I planted last week have already sprouted, as well as a few of the sweet peas and poppies. (I also discovered that in spite of pulling out hundreds of Four O'Clocks tubers last week, there are more than a dozen sprouting already--either I missed some of the tubers, or they're sprouting from seeds. Damn, those things are determined!)

And then there are some things that are no mystery at all--like a Martha Washington geranium in a pot with lots of sun will do its thing with no hassles whatsoever and put on a really great show:


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

You Can't Buy Happiness, But At Least You Can Buy More Plants

April seems to be the month when clever plant retailers and horticultural organizations realize that they can parlay our gardening frenzies and frustrations into major sales. Not only am I being lured into buying seeds and plants everytime I go into Longs Drugs, but every weekend it seems some group is holding a plant sale. This past Saturday it was the Landscape Horticulture Department at Merritt College. People showed up bright and early carrying empty flats and boxes ready to fill with goodies. After I worked the first couple hours selling coffee and muffins, I headed in to do my own shopping. The prices were reasonable and the selection was good, but for better or worse, I managed to not overdo it. I got out of there with a boxful of great-looking plants and I was only $22 poorer. Here's what I got:
  • Omphalodes cappadoica (or is it cappadocia?)--A 4" pot of pretty little blue forget-me-not type flowers
  • Pacific Coast iris--4" pot
  • Digitalis purpurea--6-pack
  • Salvia macrophylla--6-pack
  • Phygelius 'moonraker'--6" pot
  • Sweet bell pepper--(2) 4" pots
So far, I've only managed to get the digitalis and the omphalodes planted, but I did also get the side bed cleared of the Four O'Clock tubers and seeded with sweet peas, shirley poppies and violas. Here's what it looks like now (not pretty, but at least it's clean).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Aphids and Friends

It's not even May yet and already the roses are being troublesome. Last year the roses were hit hard with powdery mildew and black spot, so I'm trying to be extra vigilant this year. On Wednesday I pruned off leaves that had rust spots and sprayed with a homemade remedy that I've read is supposed to be helpful (a mixture of water, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid). But today when I looked closely, I saw this:


Aphids and some other little green thingies were feasting on my Elaine Gillet shrub rose. One lone ladybug was on the rose to do battle with them--hardly a fair fight. I blasted the aphids with the hose, but by the time I'd watered the rest of the yard and put the hose away, they were already beginning to regroup. I only have three roses--this one and two from my grandmother's house that are already struggling--so I can't afford to give one up to aphids. I'll try some other organic remedies first, but if it means bringing out the big, nasty chemical weapons, I guess I'm willing to do that. I really want these roses to do well.

And thank goodness, there are some flowers that aren't troublesome at all. The daffodils that I didn't get planted until mid-January are blooming in spite of my neglectful gardening. Three nameless ones and the first of a batch called Professor Einstein are both beautiful and carefree.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sowing Seeds


More sunshine today, and we so deserve it. I did some weeding in the morning, clearing some space around a patch of iris and also pulling dandelions in what will soon be the vegetable bed. But I was feeling too impatient to wait until that area is all clear--I needed to get something planted now, so this afternoon I sowed some spinach and carrot seeds in containers. This is the first time I've tried those in containers. I trimmed the edges of the pots in copper tape, which not only is supposed to keep the snails out but also adds a bit of interest to the planters.

I also discovered what looks like some kind of berry plant growing under one of the delphiniums. I dug it up and potted it. If it turns out to be something I'd actually like to keep, it'll need to go someplace where it will get more sun. I love finding volunteers in the garden!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Planting Dahlias

As a rule, I'm not in favor of any plant that you have to repeatedly plant and dig up, plant and dig up, ad infinitum. But every rule has an exception and I think I've met mine. Dahlias. They're big and showy and prolific--really a lot of bang for your gardening buck and probably worth every bit of the extra shoveling effort. Naturally, a group shoveling effort is bound to produce even more dazzling results. So today, with long-awaited blue skies overhead, my Landscape-Hort class headed over to the Lakeside Garden Center by Lake Merritt in Oakland to till and plant an entire bed of dahlias under the direction of Charles Russell of the local dahlia society.













Charles is extremely knowledgeable about dahlias and it seemed like he could answer any question we threw at him. When we arrived at the park, he had already laid out dozens of milk cartons filled with the dahlia tubers (which, as Charles pointed out, are actually tuberous roots rather than tubers) that had been carefully stored for the winter.

We had to manually till the whole bed first, but fortunately the soil was sandy and the digging was easy. We then dug a hole by each stake, 8" deep and 12 " across. Charles gave a demonstration on how to place the tuber and then cover with only 2" of soil. There was quite a variety of dahlias in the group and they should be quite spectacular when they begin to bloom in about 90 days. The dahlia society has a sale coming up in a couple weeks. Anyone want to suggest a favorite dahlia that I should buy to put in my garden?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Break in the Rain


The forecast for today said to expect cloudy skies, showers, and a chance of thunder. Instead, it was blue skies all day long and the temperature even crept up above 70 degrees. A perfect day, although it would have been more perfect if I had time to be out in the garden all day. As it was, I was only able to be outside for about 30 minutes--just long enough to pot up six Brugmansia starts. They were given to me by Chloe, one of my classmates, whose Brugmansia had blown down in one of the recent storms. In order to replant it she had to cut it back severely, but her loss was my gain. Hopefully, I'll end up with two good plants for my yard and a few to share with friends.

And there was also just enough time to run around with the camera and snap a few quick shots of the newest blooms.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Tour: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Ugly

Prompted by Angela's "Full Disclosure" posting on her blog, Angela's Northern California Garden Blog, I thought I might as well come clean about the current state of things in my garden. In my own defense, I have to point out that in the last month and a half, there have been only a scant handful of rain-free days to get any gardening done, but ... yuk. All I can say is that I have high hopes for improving things in the coming months.

With that said, let's do a clockwise turn around the garden, starting at the back doorstep...

This is currently the brightest spot in the garden: a pot of Nemesia that I got for free at P. Allen Smith's seminar at the San Francisco Flower Show last month.

Right next to that is BH's garden, a little memorial garden-in-progress for my late, great cat. This picture was taken a few days ago, but now the Bleeding Hearts in the back are almost ready to bloom. I'm planning on putting in catnip and Forget-Me-Nots as well.

Next, we come to one of my problem children: a passion flower vine that doesn't seem to be happy no matter where I put it. Last month I moved it here, which is the sunniest spot I've got to offer it. I'm starting to feel like this pathetic little passion is a reflection of my romantic history. I seem to spend most of my time standing in front of it imploring, "Just tell me what you want!"

And oh, yes, there are a few weeds. Well, more than a few...

This spot is where I intend to plant veggies this year, possibly trying the lasagna method.

And by this time next month, I hope to have this next area on the side of the house set up as a propagation area. The recycling bin will also get relocated here.

This side bed may look innocent enough, but lurking just below the surface are hundreds of small tubers resulting from the Four O'Clocks I planted two years ago. I really need to get them dug up and donated to unsuspecting gardeners who don't know that they will reproduce like rabbits. Once they're cleared, I'm planting a brugmansia that I'm starting from a cutting and some liriope that I have waiting in 4-inch pots.

Next comes my shed and deck, which could definitely use some sprucing up.

And in front of the deck is an odd, little rectangular bed. It was laid with sod when I moved in, but since I happily tore that out, I've had good luck with lettuce and spinach, and more recently, strawberries here. The stick-like thing in the big pot in the middle is a dwarf Ranier Cherry. After I bought it, I learned that I need to get it a boyfriend cherry tree if I ever want it to fruit.

An no, that's not snow on the ground in the middle of the bed. It's the remnants of the shredded office paper I tried out as mulch last year. The pots in the foreground are three lavendar starts and about 22 Ogallala strawberries I got a few weeks ago from Gurney's.

Next is the L-shaped bed that runs around the western corner of my lot. Along the back fence are iris, daffodils, papyrus, a volunteer calla lilly, some delphiniums, nasturtiums, and a few primroses. In the corner is a lilac that I planted in February (bought bare-root from Smith & Hawken). Then along the side fence are a couple more delphinium, three roses (two of which are from my grandmother's garden), and an apricot hibiscus.

Last but not least, there's a wonderful jasmine climbing up an invisible trellis on the side of the carport. Some irises have made a tentative appearance below it, amongst the weeds.

As you can also glimpse here, the clutter in the carport has gotten out of control. Soon to be dealt with, though.

And here we are, back again at the back door. My mustached cat, Linus, is peeking out to say good-bye.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

In the Beginning...

There is something about starting a garden that makes one feel a little god-like. (The humbling days come further down the line.) When I bought my house almost four years ago, the back yard boasted two small patches of green-but-awful lawn, three sickly potted palms, a lovely redwood deck with two Adirondack chairs, and a large area of cracked, boring, concrete pavement. One long, narrow flower bed along the southeast fence and an L-shaped bed along the western corner of the yard had been covered with landscape fabric and a layer of large redwood nuggests. That was it. Boring, boring, boring.

Since then I've made a number of novice attempts to improve the situation. I've removed all of the lawn, resigned the poor palms to the green recycling bin, hauled out the redwood nuggets, and (OK, this might have been a mistake) pulled up all the landscape fabric. And I've planted, mostly annuals, and mostly without a plan. I've had some amazing successes: delicious Quinault everbearing strawberries, stately sunflowers, and countless pounds of Roma tomatoes (too bad I don't like tomatoes!).

But last year my lack of gardening know-how began to weigh me down and I decided to take a class in the Landscape Horticulture department at Merritt College in Oakland. I began with a plant terminology course, followed this semester by the Intro to Landscape Hort class. And now I'm hooked. I'm hoping that what I learn there will lead to a garden that is gorgeous, robust, and intriguing. Or at least green.

This blog is intended to chronicle my efforts in my own garden as well as discuss the amazing gardens, public and private, in the Bay Area and the gardeners who work them.

Welcome, and come back to visit often!

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