An Alameda Garden: 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Am So Behind

The last couple months have been so busy with work that in spite of my best intentions (and a long list of topics to write about), I hardly posted here at all. When I wasn't working I was feeling either the pressure or the temptation (depending on my mood) to spend my time actually gardening rather than blogging about gardening. But I seem to have a break in the action over the next few days before more work comes in and I hope to use that time to get some posts done that have been simmering quietly in the dark recess of my mind (you know, like compost). So here are some highlights of a few of the posts that should appear here in the coming week:
  • A couple book reviews, plus a round-up of some garden books that I've either recently come across or that have really proved their worth--just in case you have any gardeners on your Christmas list.
  • A DVD review.
  • A report on the International Plant Propagators conference I attended last month in Salem, Oregon.
  • Some notes on how the vegetable harvest has been going in my garden.
  • A long overdue post on the almost year-long effort I've been making to re-landscape my front yard.
  • Some other miscellaneous ramblings about what's going on in the back yard.
The real posting begins tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

Don't miss Michael Pollan's great op-ed piece in the New York Times on the Farm Bill coming before the Senate. Pollan is better at anyone else at sorting out how American agriculture has gotten so screwed up and how it might, just possibly, be fixed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reconsidering Mums

I've never been a big fan of chrysanthemums. They've always seemed to me to be drab and shrubby in the dullest possible way. But the L.A. Times has an article on mums this week including lots of great photos of some Japanese mums featured at an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden. Check it out, particularly the spider mums and the ozukuri, which are almost dizzying in their beauty. I doubt I'll ever think of mums quite the same way again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Difference Between Watering and Raining

Last night we had the first really good soaking rain that we've had in a long time--a few months at least. Walking around the back yard this morning, I couldn't help but notice how perky everything looked. Even the end-of-season, on-its-last-gasp stuff like the tomatoes and the pumpkin vine seemed to have a bit of renewed vigor and it brought me to a sudden and what should have been obvious conclusion: I haven't been watering deeply enough.

My routine this summer has been to hand-water with the hose twice a week, with occasional extra spot watering with a watering can when the weather got really hot or something looked particularly parched. I think that schedule is OK, but I realize now that it probably would have been better if I'd used a sprinkler on the hose and let it run in each bed for about five minutes. While the sprinkler ran, I could have been doing odds and ends of other tasks (pruning and weeding, for example) instead of just standing there like a moron holding the hose. I thought that by hand watering I was able to give more customized care to each plant or bed. But I think I was kidding myself. And I'm even wondering if the less than spectacular results that I've had this year with blooming and fruiting, which I've been blaming on soil problems or pest problems, may actually have been at least partially due to inadequate watering.

It's too late to test this theory this year. We've got another storm coming in at the end of the week and possibly a third due early next week. And the rainy season typically kicks in around November here (although is weather ever "typical" anymore?). But I'm noting this for next year. And one of these summers maybe I'll actually get my act together and install some kind of drip irrigation system in the back yard. I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Greening Up an Alameda Public School

I got an e-mail recently from Shirley Watts, an Alameda landscape designer I posted about a couple months ago. She wanted to tell me about a pro bono project she's working on to put in new landscaping at the recently revamped Haight School and asked me to spread the word. Installation begins at the end of this month and they are in need of volunteers and, of course, some green stuff--that's right, money. Here's what Shirley wrote me:
We are doing an all volunteer landscape installation at the Henry Haight Elementary school in Alameda. The school is located on Santa Clara Ave in Alameda. It is a Title 1 school and was closed for a year last year for retrofitting. I was contacted by some parents to help landscape the large area in the front of the school. The school district was planning on throwing down sod which is considered low maintenance landscaping.

We have designed a simple project which we will be installing with volunteers working 4 Saturdays starting on October 27th. We are looking for people to help with all phases of the installation. Apart from being a good thing to do, this will be a good opportunity to experience a serious landscape installation and work with some of the skilled professionals we have on board.

If enough people are interested we may set up some kind of orientation meeting the week before we start.

The installation will be as follows:

Day1 Oct 27th:
Installation of large circular forms for concrete planters which will be prebuilt and ready to set up. Setting posts for steel trellis. Building concrete forms for new front path with rebar. Installing irrigation valves.

Following weekend:
Concrete pour and finishing. We will have a one or more trucks, pumping, finishing etc. More irrigation work and installing steel trellis.

Following weekend:
Remove forms, fill planters with soil, set up irrigation

Following weekend:
Planting and emitters

We are looking for serious people to help with all aspects of this project, particularly the first two weeks, which should be a great experience for anyone who hasn't been in on a concrete pour.

We are also soliciting donations of money and materials. We have some funding available, but need to raise at least $15,000.00 to get this done. Checks should be written to the Haight School PTA 2025 Santa Clara Ave Alameda CA 94501 With a note that it is for the Beautification project.

Anyone who's interested in donating or volunteering should contact me at .
This seems like a really worthy cause. The elementary school I went to had landscaping that consisted of wooden benches and asphalt--the most depressing environment you can imagine. I think that surrounding a school with beautiful, well-designed landscaping goes a long way to keeping students inspired and give them some pride in their school. I hope to be able to post some pictures of how the landscaping turns out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Santa Cruz Gets Sprayed

There's an interesting article in the L.A. Times today about aerial spraying being done a little bit south of here in Santa Cruz County in an attempt to eradicate the light brown apple moth that has the entire state's agricultural industry chewing their nails. This moth has proved to be hugely destructive when it's taken hold in other countries, so their fears are understandable. The spraying, however, is controversial to say the least. I haven't heard any talk of spraying here in Alameda County, but it could come to that. The disturbing thing is that the opinions of the public and local governments appear to have no influence in the debate over the spraying. The Department of Agriculture supports the spraying plan and apparently doesn't recognize the fact that government agencies have lied about and endorsed the use of dangerous pesticides so many times in the past that they have absolutely no credibility now when they say that this spray is perfectly safe. Here's hoping that this time, they actually know what they're talking about.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Worms of Alameda

Alameda Magazine has an article written by Wanda Hennig about a cool little vermiculture operation here in town called Bay Worms. The article introduces Miki Jurcan, who runs Bay Worms and has big plans for its growth. Herbert Hoover may have promised a chicken in every pot, but Jurcan dreams of a worm bin in every household, which seems to me a much more practical aspiration.

While Hennig was researching her article a few months ago, she came across my blog posting on my own worm bin and contacted me with a few questions about vericomposting at home. I'm happy to report that the worms are still happily digesting away. I haven't harvested any castings yet, but I don't mind being patient. They are the most well-behaved pets I've ever had.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Weedy Eyesores Blossom into Community Gardens

There's a great little article in the San Francisco Chronicle today about how the City of SF is teaming up with volunteer gardeners to turn weed- and garbage-filled abandoned lots into beautiful community gardens. Curiously, it's the gardeners who seem to be the instigators of the effort, now called the Street Parks Program, rather than the city. There's even a bit about how one intrepid gardener in his 70s rappelled down the side of a hill to clear away the weeds and wears cleats to work on the steep slope of the lot that he gardens. Take a look.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ladybugs to the Rescue

All summer long I've been watching my Snail vine suffer from a full-on assault by aphids. Every time I watered I blasted them with the hose, but they kept coming back and bringing their friends. It's been so frustrating to think that this vine could be so beautiful but between the frosts last winter and the aphids this summer, it's looking really pathetic. It was time to bring in the troops.

I ordered some Sta-Home Lady Beetles from Gardens Alive and tonight I released them in the garden. The complaint that I've always heard about using ladybugs for aphid control is that you can release hundreds of them and they'll quickly disappear from your garden. But these ladybugs supposedly arrive ready to lay eggs. The eggs hatch within a week, producing an entire crop of very hungry larvae that can't fly away and that are capable of consuming even more aphids than the mature ladybugs. Within a month the original order of 900 ladybugs will produce 10,000 larvae. Now that's a surge!

A friend has also told me that a heavy aphid infestation is an indication that the soil is lacking in phosphorus. I guess the next step is adding regular doses of bone meal to the soil. Any other suggestions? I'm in a take-no-prisoners sort of mood.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What Color Is Your Tree Trunk?

The LA Times has an interesting article about landscape designer Ted Weiant and his penchant for painting the trunks of his trees in assorted colors. Weiant says it began a few years ago when he felt that he needed to do something with some unhealthy-looking camellias in his backyard. He decided that instead of pulling them out, he'd paint them with blue outdoor latex paint. He figured either the paint would protect them and they'd get healthier, or it would kill them and then he'd take them out. Nothing to lose, really. The camellias did improve and Weiant went on to paint more of his trees, including a now all-green fig tree.

The article made me laugh a little, remembering some of the comments that were getting batted around a few months ago at Garden Rant regarding painting garden furniture. If some people have strong feelings about painting furniture, how would they react to the idea of painting trees? Personally, I find the idea a bit intriguing. I'm not sure there's a place in my garden for a blue or pink or yellow tree, but god knows, the camellia at the side of my house has been annoying me for a while now. Someday, well, me ... a paintbrush ... a spare quart of paint ... and a tree that can't run away .... It could happen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Bit of Alameda in Sunset Magazine

While clicking through the latest offerings on, I came across an article on patios in the round and one particular patio caught my eye. It was comprised of irregular pieces of black slate interspersed with aluminum letters of varying sizes. Being a bit of a text-junkie, I love to see designs incorporating letters and words and entire chunks of text. I was even more impressed and surprised to see that the design is from an Alameda garden and was designed by Alameda landscape designer, Shirley Alexandra Watts.

Clicking through to Watts' web site, I found even more exciting designs. It appears Watts also has a love of incorporating text into her garden designs and she does it extremely well. Check out the Frankenstein lamps (the bottom photo on the Lights page) and the fountain at the Sicilian Garden at American Soils. I also really liked the images from the Park Street Residence. Park Street is the main drag in Alameda, mostly commercial with only a few blocks of older houses at the south end. I love the idea that tucked away on one of the busiest streets in town is this little garden hideway.

It's also worth noting that Watts was trained in the Merritt College Landscape Horticulture program. This is not the first time I've been very impressed by one of Merritt's former design students.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Accidents

I wish I could claim I planned this, but I honestly didn't. Just one of those times when serendipity in the garden does its thing particularly well. I suppose the names should have tipped me off that they'd go great together: Stargazer lily and Heavenly Blue morning glory.

Call it kismet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Right Plant, Right Place (I Hope)

I've been on the lookout for a while for the right plant to anchor the back corner of the little bed that sits right outside my back steps. I had planted Bleeding Hearts here before, but I think it was too sunny, because they bloomed and grew one season and then never came back.

What I was looking for was something substantial but not overwhelming. Something that would grow to no more than 3 feet high, and not so wide that it would squeeze out the other plants already there. (Right now, that's just catmint and a few Stargazer lillies, but earlier in the season there were iris, freesias, and snapdragons.) Because this spot is the site of a little memorial garden, I wanted a plant that would also have some meaning, either through the language of flowers, the name of the plant, or the color.

I think I may have found what I was looking for: Hibiscus acetosella 'Haight Ashbury.' This plant has amazing foliage--maple-like leaves splotched with dark green, bright red, and deep burgundy. And then there are the flowers--single-petal blooms of deep, I mean really deep, burgundy that darkens to very nearly black in the throat. Ever since reading Blackswamp Girl's post at A Study in Contrasts about her black Watchman hollyhock, I've been thinking that a black flower would make a nice addition to this part of the garden. I'm doubly pleased with the hibiscus because it also has such striking foliage. I think it looks great between the peachy-beige stucco on my house and the lighter green foliage of the plants surrounding it.

If it does as well as I'm hoping it will, I think I'll also take a cutting to root for the front yard as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Partying with Propagators

I got word today that I've been granted a scholarship from the International Plant Propagators' Society to attend their Annual Meeting in October in Salem, Oregon. My propagation instructor, Susan Ashley, had encouraged everyone in our class to apply for the scholarships and I think a few others besides me applied as well. Hopefully, they got scholarships too. Susan said the people in the IPPS are a good group and the meetings are fun and interesting, so I'm really looking forward to it. In addition, I'll get a one-year student membership in the IPPS.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tomato Sighting

Although my original plan this spring was to skip planting tomatoes altogether, when I visited the Baia Nicchia booth at the Alameda Farmers Market several weeks ago, I couldn't pass up the chance to try out some of their tomato plants. Baia Nicchia is a local grower that specializes in tomato plants that are particularly well-suited for our coastal climate. They sell heirlooms as well as F1 hybrids and judging from the pictures I've seen, their tomatoes are gorgeous.

I picked four varieties to try out:
  1. Maglia Rosa, a Baia Nicchia original, is an egg-shaped tomato with mottled pink skin. It is a cross of Speckled Roman and Black Cherry.
  2. Vesuvio, another Baia Nicchia hybrid, is derived from San Marzano. It is shaped like a long-pepper and well-suited for container growing.
  3. SunGold is a cherry tomato.
  4. Costoluto Genovese is an Italian heirloom.
The first to fruit is Costoluto Genovese, pictured here. They are only about the size of a penny right now, so we're a long way from anything edible. But there's something about that first tomato siting--it just smacks of hope.

(And yes, I still can't stand the taste of tomatoes, but I do like growing them for family and friends. I'm also hoping to get some sauce or salsa canned this year, and I'm also determined to try fried green tomatoes for the first time. The Costoluto Genovese should be a good candidate for this.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Support Your Local Pollinator

Believe it or not, this week (June 24-30) is National Pollinator Week. There have been events going on throughout the country designed to encourage appreciation of the vital and monumental job that pollinators perform moving tiny bits of pollen from one flower to the next--a thankless task that they happily do, and oh by the way, if they stopped doing it our entire ecosystem would basically shut down. If nothing else, the current problem with Colony Collapse Disorder, which is decimating the honeybee population, should serve as a reminder not to take these guys for granted.

As part of the pollinator lovefest, the U.S. Postal Service is unveiling a new stamp dedicated to the best-known (and perhaps the cutest) pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are a given, and I suppose it was nice of the USPS to include bats, which, however useful they may be, do creep some people out. But where is the recognition for the less lovable, but no less hard-working pollinators? Where's the stamp commemorating the hard work of slugs, snails, ants, flies, and beetles? So here's to the unsung heroes--the creepy-crawlies, the flying annoyances, the slimy little bastards who keep our gardens pollinated. Everyone, raise your glass!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Now the Feds Are Coming After Salvia

As if it's not bad enough that the U.S. government has wasted billions of dollars in a hopeless effort to eradicate marijuana use, now it appears they're getting interested in a particular variety of salvia (Salvia divinorum). According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the plant's leaves cause hallucinations similar to the effect of LSD or magic mushrooms when chewed or smoked. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has taken a sudden interest in the plant, which is native to Mexico but is now being legally grown here.

Now, I'm not an advocate of hallucinogenic drugs. Personally, I find reality weird and disturbing enough. I'm just hoping that this will not become another ridiculous target in the so-called war on drugs. It's bad enough that we are not allowed to reap the many practical benefits of hemp. It would be a shame if we had to worry about the DEA going after our salvias too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

In Memoriam

Today we are having the funeral for my Aunt Helen, who died last week at the age of 87. Before Alzheimer's got its grip on her, she was a clever, busy, and very caring woman who took care of her family, including a daughter with MS, and her home, which included a beautiful garden. I spent a lot of time with Helen when I was growing up. Her home was just around the corner from my school and I went over there when school let out to wait until my mom was home from work.

In those afternoons, when it was just Helen, my cousin Dorothy who for the most part couldn't communicate, and me hanging out, I got my first introduction to someone who really loved to garden. I could see how she looked forward to the afternoons that were warm enough to take my cousin out in the wheelchair into the backyard, where Helen would dig in. It looked like a lot of work to me, but I know now how replenishing it must have been for her.

I am beginning plans for a small memorial garden for Helen somewhere in my yard, but in truth much of my garden is already a memorial to her. The passion flower vine, the canna, the cherry tree, the poor man's orchid (shown here) are all plants I learned to love in her garden. I hope wherever she is now, there is a beautiful garden for her and plenty of time to work in it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Favorite Plant of the Moment

Every once in a great while I make a really fantastic plant choice and the plant gods smile. Last summer I ordered this snail vine (Vigna caracalla) from a catalog. I'd never actually seen the plant in real life but I loved the description of the tightly curled, snailshell-like buds and thought I'd give it a try. I planted it at the sunny end of the bed on the east side of my back yard in the hope that it would eventually fill out and cover the latticed fence that separates my yard from my oh-so-close nextdoor neighbor. By autumn it had gotten off to a good start. Then the winter frosts did a nasty bit of work on it, but now it is rebounding nicely. It's still a long way from being a full privacy screen, but who cares? The flowers are a gorgeous shade of lavender and the greenish-purple buds still wow me.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Flora Grubb Gardens

Yesterday my friend Linda and I visited Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. This nursery recently relocated to its new location in the Bayview/Hunters Point area and has been getting a lot of attention, so we had to check it out.

What we found was a pretty impressive selection of plants, especially succulents. The nursery also shares space with The Palmbroker, so there's a great selection of palms as well. We found some plants you don't usually find in nurseries--Linda found an Italian herb called Nepetella, which she told me she's never found anywhere else. And even with the more common plants, there was a better-than-usual selection.

Flora Grubb bills itself as both a nursery and a design studio and they offer lots of amazing decorative items for the garden, such as ornate wood and wrought iron doors and an array of large pots in varied styles. Here's the sad part: these tend to be high-end items, well beyond my garden budget. I found some brown rectangular pots that would look perfect in my front yard, but at $350 each, that's so not going to happen.

So I contented myself (for now) with wandering and admiring. I browsed the excellent selection of garden design books and drank an amazing latte. (No kidding, their barista is a true artist. Do not leave this place without enjoying a coffee drink.) I know I'll be going back to Flora Grubb.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Salvia chiapensis

I got this in a 4-inch pot last fall at one of the Merritt College plant sales. It's just been lazing around since then until it had a sudden growth spurt a few weeks ago. It's put out about five flower spikes since then and the color is really amazing--hot, hot, hot pink. The foliage (not shown in this picture; these leaves belong to the damn four o'clocks that I can't get rid of) is nice too--deep green and heavily veined.

I hope the hummingbirds enjoy this as much as I do.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This poem by Canadian poet John McCrae was published in 1915, in the midst of World War I. Although it was originally used as a recruiting tool, in recent years it has often been interpreted as an anti-war statement.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back to It

I'd like to report that the reason I haven't posted in so long is that I've been away touring the great gardens of Europe, but no such luck. There are two much less interesting reasons: too much steady work (nice for the bank account, bad for the brain), and a generally muddled state of mind. As a result both the garden and the blog have been neglected.

I've come to think of my garden as the Anti-Monet Garden. While Monet's paintings looked best viewed from a bit of distance, my garden is best viewed up close--really close. The sweet peas here, for example, look, well, sweet in this little vase on the windowsill. The vine they bloomed on, however, was scraggily and one of only two that grew from a whole row that I planted. Although the flowers were lovely, the overall effect was pitiful. I'm saving seed from it and I'm going to give sweet peas one more try next year. I fantasize about having a solid wall of sweet peas one of these springs, but in reality I'm just about to give up on them.

There are some other lovely blooms in the garden: clematis and canna, poppies and passion flowers. But the big picture ain't pretty. A couple of beds are looking far too sparse, another is overgrown, and the rose bed is getting choked with weeds. A lot could be put right if I had a full week to work in the garden, but that's not likely to come up soon. I hope to make some progress this long weekend, but until then, I'll just keep looking at things close up.

Even though I haven't posted recently, this blog, like the garden, seems to have a life of its own and I am continually surprised by the contacts I've made through the blog. In the last few weeks I've been interviewed about worm composting by a local reporter who saw my blog post on the subject; a reader named Michelle who found the blog e-mailed me to ask for information about oriental lillies; a friend told me that another friend of ours from high school who I seldom get to see had stumbled across the blog; and a business rep contacted me about placing some advertising that would actually make the blog marginally profitable (of course, we all know the money would go right back into the garden!). Although I started this blog primarily as an online garden journal for my own use, the comments and contacts that it's generated have been a big reason why I've kept going with it. So to all who visit (or keep visiting), thanks! I plan on getting back to a more regular posting schedule.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Gardener's Guide to Global Warming

The National Wildlife Federation has come up with a 40-page guide called "The Gardener's Guide to Global Warming: Challenges and Solutions" that is worth checking out. In addition, their website has a couple interesting maps--one indicating which states have either a state tree or state flower (or both) that are in peril due to global warming, and another showing the revised hardiness zones according to the National Arbor Day Foundation. Take a look.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Step It Up

There's been an interesting conversation going on at Garden Rant today regarding global warming, a subject I find myself thinking, reading, and obsessing about more and more these days.

This Saturday, April 14, has been declared a National Day of Climate Action. The point of it is to gather people together in more than a thousand events across the country to send a message to Congress demanding carbon cuts of 80% by the year 2050. It's a serious goal and I think the time is right to demand action of our legislators.

To find a rally near you (or to plan one) go to the web site for Step It Up 2007. You'll find more than 1300 events already listed. I'll be attending one here in Alameda, which includes a rally, a march up the main street in town, and a town hall discussion and teach-in at the public library. It looks like it will offer a lot of information and, hopefully, a plan of action for us as a community.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cherry Blossoms and Wishes

In honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival going on right now in Washington, D.C., I thought I'd show off a few of the blossoms gracing my dwarf Ranier cherry tree right now.

The pictures I've seen of the blossoms in D.C. (the Washington Post has provided some good coverage) are really spectacular and I'd love to actually be there one of these years to see it in person. But I particularly enjoyed reading today about Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree" project. Ono has installed ten potted cherry trees in bloom around the city so that people can tie on slips of paper with their wishes written on them. After two weeks, the wishes will be collected and Ono will incorporate them into her Imagine Peace Tower, to be installed later this year in Iceland.

It's a lovely idea and I look forward to seeing the tower when it's completed and god knows, imagining peace seems like the least we can do. But I won't be tying any wishes to my tree. To me, a tree is a wish in and of itself. Enough said.

Friday, March 23, 2007

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Yesterday I went to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, one of the two biggest shows of this kind on the west coast. The show was somewhat smaller than last year and I think I did a better job of avoiding sensory overload this time around, but it's still a lot to take in.

My first impression was that the display gardens were a little better this year compared to last year, more textural, less (for lack of a better word) odd. That being said, my favorite garden was a kooky scene called "Under the Sea" by Organic Mechanics. Using a wide range of succulents and some very cool metal sculptures, they re-created the look of a seabed. The use of form and texture was terrific, and the variations of foliage color gave it the look of dappled undersea lighting.

An Octopus's Garden

This dining area had the most amazing (and least comfortable-looking) chairs!

The garden even included a great outdoor shower.

But if the undersea look is not to your taste, how about this bit of "Eye Candy" from the American Institute of Floral Designers? Just in case you were wondering what to do with all those carnations you're growing, now you know--you can build a poodle out of them.

Scary, isn't it?

Or maybe something more urban/gritty is what you're looking for. I left the guy in the shot to give a sense of the scale of these massive metal martini-glass-shaped planters. Talk about vertical gardening!

But for all the scenes that are screaming for your attention at a show like this, sometimes it's the simpler sights that make you hit the breaks as you tear through the aisles trying to see it all. I'm not a huge fan of bonsai, but nevertheless this was one of those sights:

And for Snappy, here's another--a glimpse of orchid heaven:

But there was more to do at the show than take pretty pictures. I attended a reception for the Garden Writers Association, which I've just recently joined. There we heard from the organizers of the show and the show's sponsors, Sunset Publishing and Smith & Hawken. (Sunset actually gave us all comp copies of the new edition of the Western Garden Book, which was definitely the best goodie-bag goodie I've ever received.) There was also a brief talk and slide show by Fergus Garrett of the Great Dixter gardens in England. I even had the opportunity to meet Amy Stewart of Flower Confidential and Garden Rant fame, who seems to be bearing up well in the midst of her book tour.

There was inevitably some talk of "trends" and they all seem to be pointing away from anyone actually getting their hands dirty in the garden. What can I say? I looked at Amy. Amy looked at me. We shrugged. I sense another rant coming.

Perhaps the best part of the show for me, though, was seeing so many people who have made careers out of writing about, talking about, judging, and otherwise drooling over flowers and gardens. Nice work if you can get it...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rose Harvest Tour

The Russian River Rose Company in Healdsburg is again offering rose harvest tours this year from April 12 to May 29. I posted last year about my experience on the tour. It really is a lovely way to spend the day--up to your neck in fragrant fields watching fat bees gettin' busy on a smorgasbord of roses while you fill your basket with blooms. Then there are tea and goodies to sample, roses to buy, and as long as you're in the neighborhood, why not stop by a winery or two on the way home. If you're in the vicinity, I highly recommend the tour.

As an aside, the climbing rose I bought there last year (called Rachel's Smile) has established itself well and is in bud!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Grafting 101--Success!

After attending the California Rare Fruit Growers Association's scion exchange in January, I was excited to try grafting. In early February we covered grafting and budding in the propagation class I'm taking at Merritt College and in the lab there I tried doing a whip-and-tongue graft of a plum onto a peach rootstock. That plant is still in the greenhouse on campus and I haven't checked yet to see how it's doing. But after that class, I felt ready to try grafting on my own and on February 17 I grafted two Fuji scions onto apple rootstocks. Here's how it went.

Here are the supplies I worked with: leather-palmed gloves (we used kevlar butcher's gloves in class and I would recommend getting those); a sharp utility knife; pruning shears; scissors; alcohol for cleaning the blades; parafilm for wrapping the graft; saran wrap for covering the graft (next time I do this, I'll use the press-and-seal kind of wrap); a brown paper bag for covering the entire plant; and green garden tape for securing the paper bag. In the future, I would also try using grafting wax to seal the grafts--apparently this really increases the success rate.

I started with two apple rootstocks, about the size of a pencil in diameter:

I got two kinds of apple scions at the scion exchange--Early Fuji (the two long, narrow sticks) and Fuji (the smaller, shorter stick). It's important that the scion and the rootstock be the same diameter at the location of the graft.

I cut the rootstock off in between nodes a few inches above the ground with the pruning shears. Using the utility knife, I made a diagonal cut on the rootstock and then made a downward slice about one-third of the way in at the top of the diagonal cut. I made matching cuts on the scion and fit the two pieces together:

Here is a closer look at the graft, and as you can see, it's not a very good fit. It's really a challenge to get the rootstock and scion cuts to match perfectly and it must take a lot of practice. I was worried that this graft wouldn't take, but it did seem that much of the cambium layers were lining up so I figured I'd hope for the best.

The next step is wrapping the graft in parafilm. Parafilm is a very stretchy plastic-like film used in labs. It helps to seal the graft up tight so the scion doesn't dry out, but it also allows for buds to break through the parafilm, which eventually deteriorates and falls off. I also trimmed the top of the scion and wrapped that in parafilm as well.

If I were using grafting wax, I'd have covered the graft and the top cut with that, but instead I wrapped it in saran wrap to keep moisture from getting to the cut wood.

Following all that, I covered the entire plant with a brown paper bag and put the pot in my carport, out of direct sunlight. I kept the plant lightly watered and after a couple weeks I took the paper bag off. Today I moved the plants out into the sunlight and removed the saran wrap. Here's what I saw:

The bud below the graft is from the rootstock and will need to be trimmed off, but the leaf buds at the top show that the scion is clearly alive and it appears the graft has taken. The other apple that I grafted hasn't budded so far, so I can't tell if that's just slow or if that graft failed.

As challenging and frustrating as it can be to make good matching cuts for grafting, I really enjoyed doing this and hope to do more of it. It's another example of how even far-less-than-perfect attempts in the garden can yield surprisingly good results.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Letting Congress Know Where You Stand on the Climate Crisis

Next Wednesday (March 21st) Al Gore will testify before Congress on the issue of global warming and the most immediate actions that the government needs to take to end the climate crisis. Gore has already gathered close to 300,000 signatures to present to Congress on Wednesday to demonstrate the public's concern on this issue. If you want to register your concern as well, click here to fill out a postcard to your representative that Al Gore will personally deliver. The goal is to gather at least 350,000 signatures, but it seems to me that there should be many, many more than that. Please consider adding your name to the roll.

Update 5/22/07: When Al Gore spoke to Congress yesterday, he took with him more than 519,000 postcards from the public telling them that it's time to take action. Gore's presentation at both the House and Senate committees was well-informed and passionate. Watching the committee hearings was both encouraging and aggravating--encouraging that the hearings are taking place, and aggravating to see dinosaurs like Sen. Inhoffe who are living high on funding from the oil lobby while they deny that global warning even exists. I found it interesting also to read that the House Republican leadership refused to appoint any Republican to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming unless they would take the position that human activity is not causing global warming. Clearly, the Republicans are sticking to their oil-loving agenda no matter what the science says.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bloom Day

If this is the 15th, this must be Bloom Day. Here's a sample of what's blooming in the garden right now:


Tete-a-Tete Daffodils


Kangaroo Apple

Aloe vera


Professor Einstein Daffodil

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Even Snails Are Conservationists

It's amazing what you can learn when you waste an incredible amount of time surfing the Net. Like the fact that snails conserve energy by re-using the mucus trails they travel on. Apparently, even barely sentient mollusks know what people like Ann Coulter and other right-wingers can't grasp: energy efficiency just makes sense.

Of course, I wish snails would be energy-efficient in someone else's garden...


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bloom Day

In response to Carol's suggestion at May Dreams Gardens that garden bloggers post photos of whatever's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month, here's my rather limited contribution: an aloe vera in bud, chasmanthe looking a little like fireworks, and a calla lilly about to unfurl.

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