An Alameda Garden: January 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

NorCal Trade Show

Yesterday I went to the NorCal Trade Show in San Mateo. This is the trade show for the nursery industry and it not only offers an opportunity to preview the items you're likely to see filling the shelves of your local nurseries and garden centers, it also provides some insight into how those products are going to be marketed to you.

At the end of one of the exhibit hall were four presentations (like the one shown here) that were supposed to appeal to four different demographics: Generation X, Generation Y, the Baby Boomers, and the generation that I fall into, the unfortunately named Jones Generation. How was each presentation supposed to appeal to each group? You got me. All four of them looked interesting but staged and styled beyond any semblance of reality, and none of the individual elements seemed to me particularly suited to any special demographic. Plants, a place to sit and relax, and some decorative chachkas--each presentation seemed to be some variation of those elements and whether you were drawn to one or another probably would depend more on your taste and your pocketbook than what year you were born in.

I did, however, enjoy wandering through all the booths, picking up information on this or that, as well as a few samples of various fertilizers. Of all the nursery booths, by far the most appealing one belonged to Succulent Gardens from Carmel, who had row after row of gorgeous, plump succulents. I also liked the display of The Original Living Wreath, with an array of wreaths and topiaries, like the succulent scottie shown here.

Another booth I liked was Neustone Products, which has a line of faux stone garden planters that looked and felt pretty realistic but are lighter weight than stone. They would look great planted with succulents or a bonsai tree.

The worst thing about the NorCal Trade Show? Because it's intended for retailers, I couldn't buy anything! It was, however, a fun preview of the goodies that are sure to be at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (March 21-25), which gives me two months to save up for a shopping spree.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Never Have So Many Been Made So Happy By So Many Sticks of Wood

Today I went to the annual scion exchange of the California Rare Fruit Growers Golden Gate Chapter. Unbelievable! For anyone interested in growing fruit, a scion exchange is like a glimpse of the promised land--so many possibilities, so much potential.

This was my first time at a scion exchange and for anyone who's never been to one, here's how it works: Members of the CRFG bring scions (generally, 6-12" cuttings) from their dormant fruit or nut trees. The scions are piled in labeled ziploc bags on tables, grouped by fuit type, and for a small admittance fee anyone can take one or two scions of as many varieties as they like to bring home and graft onto their own trees. Grafting allows you to get more variety from one tree and can also provide cross-pollinators--both of which are big bonuses if you have a limited space in your garden.

In addition to all the goodies you get to bring home--and perhaps even more importantly--you get access to people who have a wealth of information and years of experience growing fruit and grafting. At the Golden Gate Chapter's scion exchange, Idell Weydemeyer performed some quick demos that made the whole process seem quite easy and absolutely doable. Clearly, Idell is not timid with a grafting knife--one of her apple trees has over 40 grafts on it.

So what did I come home with for my $3 entrance fee and $2 raffle ticket (guaranteed to win something)? Four kinds of cherry scions (Black Tartian, Van, Black Republican, and Lapins); Granny Smith apple scions for a classmate; Fuji and Early Fuji apple scions for me and two apple rootstocks to graft them onto; and a Mission fig cutting to root. I also purchased a couple dollars' worth of Parafilm to wrap the grafts in. I could have brought home a lot more, but why be greedy? There's always next year's exchange.

The scions are now safely stored in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator, wrapped in damp paper towels and sealed in in ziploc bags, waiting for the right time for grafting. A few more weeks, I think, and surgery can begin.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

In Between Frosts

The temperature did drop last night, just as predicted. The garden seems to be doing OK. The worst thing was that I forgot to turn off the sprinkler system in the front yard and the water that ran off the lawn early this morning turned to ice on the sidewalk and stayed icy all day. I've never seen that happen around here before.

This afternoon was actually wonderful gardening weather--cold, but manageable with a light sweater as long as you kept moving, and beautiful sunny skies. I did some more clean-up, finally getting rid of the old tomato and basil plants and lining up the empty 5-gallon pots along the wall, ready for planting again in a few months. After clearing out that whole bed of a few errant weeds and smoothing it out, I transplanted two plants there that I've intended for that bed for a few months. In the shadier corner I planted the yellow abutilon that I bought in October at the plant sale at Merritt. In the sunny corner, I moved the small lilac that I purchased bareroot last year. I'd been waiting for the lilac to go dormant before I moved it, but it's already got leaf buds all over it. Those two plants should eventually fill up those empty corners very well. Now I need to figure out what to plant under and around them.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fear of Freezing

At 4:00 p.m. I braced myself with a cup of hot tea and then went out into the garden to do what I could to prepare for what's coming tonight: low temps in the 20s and frost. We had a few nights of frost in December. Frost occurring once in a season is rare enough around here; for it to occur again so soon is really unusual. And the low temps predicted for the next few nights may even break some records.

As a result of our being such weather wimps, not many gardeners in the Bay Area are prepared for frost when it happens. I don't know of anyone around here who keeps frost cloth on hand and I don't think I've ever seen it stocked in a local nursery or garden center. So in order to protect tender plants, one has to get creative.

My frost damage prevention plan is inelegant to say the least, but it worked pretty well last month and I'm hoping it will work again now. Here it is:
  1. Move all small container plants into the mini-greenhouse and zip it up tight. This includes a few small succulents, a couple potted ivy plants, and some other miscellaneous items.
  2. Move as many larger container plants into the carport. This really means the plants that I have in 5-gallon pots. I also moved my two terra cotta strawberry pots into the carport, but wow, that is hard on my back. The other plants in large terra cotta pots are just going to have to tough it out.
  3. Cover the dwarf meyer lemon tree that's planted in a large wine barrel with a cardboard box secured by a strong stake. (I also picked eight ripe lemons, soon to be made into lemon curd.)
  4. Cover the two brugmansias with insulated plastic bags (that my computer was shipped in), secured by stakes. I didn't protect the brugmansias during the last frost and they were slightly damaged, so I wanted to make sure they were covered this time.
  5. Water everything.
  6. Hope for the best.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Taking Inventory

There's something about this time of year that makes me crave order, and since there's not a hope in hell of actually achieving that in the garden, I thought I might at least establish a little order in my collection of seeds. Tonight I sorted through the haphazard assortment of seed packets that I've been tossing into a small box I kept in the laundry room. The grand total (once I tossed out more than a dozen empty packets that were in the mix): 55 packets of seeds. Here's the actual list:


Beans: Romano (Pole), Roma II (Bush), and Emerite Haricot Vert (Pole)
Broccoli Raab
Cabbage: Copenhagen Market
Cantaloupe: Hale’s Best
Carrots: Romeo Round, Nantes, and King Midas
Corn: True Gold
Cucumbers: Straight Eight and Lemon
Lettuces: Buttercrunch (2 packs), Black Seeded Simpson (2 packs), Mesclun (Burpee salad mix), and Farmer’s Market Lettuce Blend (Sweet Greens and Reds)
Peas: Oregon Sugar Pod
Peppers: California Wonder (Sweet Bell)
Spinach: Bloomsdale Longlasting (2 packs)
Squash: Black Zucchini


Basil: Spicy Globe
Thyme: Generic and Magic Carpet


Amaranth: Love Lies Bleeding
Baby’s Breath (3 packs)
Canterbury Bells: Calycan mixed colors
Carnations: Triumph mixed colors
Coleus: Rainbow mix
Cosmos: Little Ladybirds
Delphiniums: Pacific Giants mixed colors
Forget Me Nots: Firmament
Foxgloves: Excelsior mixed colors
Hollyhocks: Indian Spring mixed colors
Marigolds: Lemon Drop and Crackerjack
Morning Glory: Dwarf Early Call
Nasturtiums: Fiery Festival and Tall Climbing single mix
Nicotiana: Sensation mix
Poppies: Oriental (2 packs), California Golden, California Tropical Sunset, and red generic
Sunflowers: Mammoth and Velvet Queen
Cutting garden mix
Wildflower mix (2 packs)

(Note: If you could see how little actual planting space there is in my front and back yards, you'd understand how laughable this list is.)

These seeds are the remains of whatever I've bought over the last three years and I expect that most are still viable. They include freebie packets that I've gotten in the mail, bargain packets that I can't resist when they go on sale 10 for $1, and some higher-class varieties I've purchased from Pinetree, Renee's Garden, and Seeds of Change.

I know I'll only be able to plant a fraction of these seeds this year, and another fraction next year, and most will probably not last beyond that. I need to declare a moratorium here and now on buying new seeds until I have significantly gutted my current collection. It is the rational thing to do.

But already new seed catalogs are arriving in the mail, tempting me with pretty pictures and seductive descriptions. They sound so alluring, so easy. Some even include coupons. I am, after all, only human.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

When Bad Trees Happen to Good People

The S.F. Chronicle has an article today about an incident that occurred in the city where an apartment resident got into a shouting and shoving match with a tree surgeon who had come to remove a dangerously leaning old tree. The owner of the apartment building had gotten the necessary permits to remove the tree; the apartment resident had tried and failed to get the tree declared a city landmark. And when the crew arrived today to do the deed and the chainsaws were fired up, the resident just couldn't let go and all that pent-up arboricultural emotion boiled over. There were tears, shouting, and to make a long story short, it took four cops to break it all up so that the tree could finally come down.

If I'd read this story a few months ago, I might have been much more sympathetic to that overwrought tree-lover. But after finishing my course in arboriculture, I have to admit that I look at trees rather differently. I appreciate them more--for all they do for the planet and for their sheer beauty and unique character--but I feel less emotional about them. I hate to see them clear-cut, or removed simply because someone wants to build on that spot when there are other options available (as appears to be the case with the old oak grove in Berkeley that I wrote about in August). But when a tree is diseased, seriously damaged, or simply planted in the wrong spot to begin with, it's a different matter. Such a tree is a hazard, and a hazardous tree in an urban environment is a killer lying in wait.

There is a tree that I believe to be hazardous planted at the curb in front of my house. It's a very ugly, very poorly structured camphor tree and now that I know a little bit more about trees, I hold my breath every time we have a windy day for fear that one of the three lower branches will break off and fly through my bedroom window or drop onto some innocent pedestrian walking on the sidewalk below it. I intend to call the city and try to get them to remove the tree and plant something else in its place. I don't feel the least bit sentimental about the tree and I would feel terrible if someone was hurt by it. And besides, some other tree--maybe a crape myrtle or a jacaranda--would look lovely in its place.

I can understand attaching some meaning to trees, particularly ones planted to commemorate an event or a person. But there are ways for those meanings to live on beyond the tree. The apartment owner in the Chronicle's story might have been able to avoid an ugly scene by offering to give the upset resident some of the wood to make something from; or the resident might have taken a more positive approach and held some kind of ceremony for the neighborhood to come to to honor the tree before it was removed.

In the end, however, trees, like all living things, have a finite lifecycle and deserve a death with dignity, rather than being left to fall apart branch by dangerous branch.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Beginning Again

The sky was blue and clear today, the temperatures in the high 50s, and after too many weeks of neglecting both the garden and this blog, it seemed like today was a good day to get back into both. I guess I experienced some autumn burnout the last couple months, but it felt good to get outside today to begin cleaning up and clearing away the detritus from last year's efforts.

We had a couple nights of light frost about two weeks ago--something that doesn't happen very often around here. I saw on the weather report that frost was expected so I moved as many of my potted plants into the mini-greenhouse or under the cover of the carport as I could possibly move. As for what remained in the rest of the yard, I covered the dwarf meyer lemon and my two pepper plants and hoped for the best. I'm glad I took the time to do all this because all the plants I covered or moved did fine. Because most of the rest of the plants are close to the house or a fence, they were sheltered enough to get by. So the only real damage was to the salvias in the middle of the yard, a Martha Washington geranium which may or may not be dead now, and a few frost-burned leaves on the two brugmansias.

My work today consisted entirely of pruning and cleaning up. I cut back the blackened salvias, pruned the shrub roses, and pulled out the remains of the roma bean plants. I also pruned the clematis, even though most of the sources I checked said that it shouldn't be pruned until February or March. When I looked closely today I saw that it was already budding, so I cut it back to the buds.

There was actually a good deal of budding already happening in the yard, including this fragrant narcissus, and a few die-hards, such as the snapdragons and dianthus, are still flowering on. I'm always surprised by these signs of growth in the middle of winter, even though I know well enough that gardening here in the Bay Area is a year-round endeavor for both the gardener and the plants.

The first bit of planting for the year was also done today, although not by me. While I was working away with my pruners, a blue jay dropped by to carefully plant a fat peanut under a small mound of mulch. I guess he thought it was a good day for gardening too.

Happy New Year to all!
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