An Alameda Garden: March 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blogging at The Gardeners' World

I received an invitation today to contribute to The Gardeners' World, a new blog focused on issues of climate change and the environment from a gardener's perspective. I was happy to accept and jumped in already with a short post about Earth Hour, happening today at 8:00 p.m. I hope you'll join the discussion at The Gardeners' World and keep checking in. It's just getting started, but I'm hoping that it will grow into an active and worthwhile blog.

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Volunteering for the Bay Friendly Garden Tour

The folks at are looking for volunteers for this year's Bay Friendly Garden Tour on Sunday, April 27. I volunteered last year and really enjoyed the experience, so I'll be doing it again this year. This free self-guided tour offers a look at more than 30 public and private gardens throughout Alameda County that utilize bay-friendly gardening practices to build healthy soils, reduce waste, protect local watersheds and wildlife, and more. And as if that's not enough, the gardens look great! If you're in the area, check out the tour, or become a tour volunteer yourself. You'll have a great time and learn lots.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Alnwick Garden

While at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a couple weeks ago, I attended a seminar by Jane, Duchess of Northumberland, and Ian August, Garden Project Director and Garden Liaison Director of The Alnwick Garden. Together, they told the story of how the gardens at Alnwick Castle came to be designed and implemented.

I went to the seminar primarily to hear about one particular feature of the Alnwick Gardens, the Poison Garden. The Duchess figured that yet another healing garden comprised of plants with curative abilities would be too ho-hum to interest children. They'd be more intrigued to see and hear about plants that can kill. The resulting garden, which is kept behind locked gates and is only accessible in the company of a guide, contains only poisonous plants, including (by special permission of the government) cannabis, magic mushrooms, and coca plant, from which cocaine is derived. While guides delight the kiddies with tales of toxic lore, actors portray various scenarios in an effort to make the garden not only a morbid entertainment, but also a drug education tool.

Although the Duchess is not the designer of the gardens, she is clearly the creative force behind them. It was her intention that rather than being a typical English public garden, The Alnwick Gardens should be an interactive site with particular appeal for children. To that end, the gardens boast a multitude of water fountains specifically designed for children to play in, a treehouse and rope bridges that allow a bird's-eye-view, a labyrinth that teases the mind as it tickles the senses with rustling bamboo, and other features that have been planned but not yet implemented.

The garden does sound intriguing, and clearly the Duchess and her designers have gone to great pains to ensure that it is interactive enough to enchant even the most multimedia-saturated children. But I have to wonder, at what point does a site like this cease to be a garden and just become an amusement park? Are The Alnwick Gardens enough of a garden to seduce future generations into a love of gardening, or are all these bells and whistles a not-so-subtle admission that mere plants are no longer good enough.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's actually been to The Alnwick Gardens. What's the verdict? Is it a place that would delight gardeners as well as children? Or is it just another Disneyland without the rides and the mouse on steroids?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Edible Garden Grows

I've gotten a bit off track lately with my attempts to participate in the 100-ft. Diet Challenge, but the state of the vegetable garden is looking a bit more promising now. I see a lovely red-and-green salad on the horizon with mesclun, spinach, and bull's blood beet greens.

Further in the future, there will (if all goes well) be broccoli and garlic, and today I planted out bell pepper and broccoli raab seedlings. I've got lots more seeds to get started, so there should be plenty more to come.

And much further in the future, there will be cherries! I finally got the dwarf Rainier cherry tree into the ground. It seems to be handling the transplant well and is happily flowering along. I have not yet managed to get a cross-pollinator grafted or budded onto it, so there won't be any cherries this year, but hopefully next year. For now, I'll just admire how good it looks.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Scenes from the SF Flower & Garden Show

It's time again for the yearly report from the SF Flower & Garden Show. I spent the better part of the day there on Wednesday, viewing the exhibition gardens, trolling the vendor booths, and attending a few of the seminars. I missed some seminars I would have liked to go to, but I really enjoyed the seminar with the Duchess of Northumberland talking about the Alnwick Garden (which I'll post about separately).

To be honest, I'm less and less impressed by the exhibition gardens each year, not because they're not interesting, but because they seem to be getting increasingly surreal. It seemed like the recurrent themes this year were the three S's: sustainability, salvage, and sleeping in the garden. I counted no less than three beds in the exhibition gardens (and one very cozy looking couch). Now, as mild as our climate is here, I can count on one hand the number of nights each year when it seems temperate enough to make me even consider sleeping outdoors. Perhaps all the garden-bedroom designs reflect the current housing crisis--if you're facing foreclosure, I suppose you could move out into the back yard and rent out your house instead. Washing up in the garden is also on the upswing apparently--there were a couple outdoor showers and a bathtub as well. Who knew?

Anyway, here are a few bits of eye candy from four of the gardens I liked the best. Enjoy!

From: It Doesn't Take a Hectare
Somersett Designs
A very appealing mix of flowers and edibles
overseen by a very large metal rabbit.
Small-space vegetable gardening made pretty.

From: The Jeweled Garden
DJ Curb Appeal
Great use of recycled glass as a mulch and as a filler
for wire containers. Looks great but at $1-2 per lb.
of glass (it took about 150 lbs. to fill the containers in
the second picture) and no local sources for the glass,
I won't be trying this any time soon.

From: Dreams of Peace
by Toni McErlane
Where recovering hippies go to garden,
sleep, and bathe.

From: Poly-Patio
by Floricore
Saloon doors made out of dominoes, paths made out of
pieces of PVC pipe, and a dry stream made out of bottle caps.
Oh, yeah--succulents, too.

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Garden Voices Is Back!

Because I posted last month about problems I was noticing on the Garden Voices site, I want to point out now how much better things have been looking there lately. As far as I can tell, the technical glitches seem to have been worked out, and the site is being updated regularly. Thanks to Caren White (oldroses) and the other wizards behind the curtain at Garden Voices. It's so great to have this site back to being its ol' dependable self.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Building Good Bones in the Garden

I’ve often heard of the need for a garden to have “good bones”--a strong basic structure on which everything else is built. But with each passing year I’m becoming more aware that we gardeners need to have good bones too. Lucky for us, strong, healthy bones can be a by-product of gardening itself.

I recently spoke with Marty Wingate, a garden writer and speaker, and Barbara Dehn, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health, about just how good gardening is for bone health. Marty and Barbara will be leading a seminar on “Gardening for Good Health” tomorrow at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, but they were nice enough to give me a brief preview.


Essential Elements for Good Bone Health

With 10 million people in the U.S. having osteoporosis, a disease causing bones to become brittle and more susceptible to breaks, and another 34 million estimated to be at increased risk for getting it, it’s important to make sure we're getting the three essential elements for good bone health: 1) calcium, 2) vitamin D, and 3) weight-bearing exercise.
What I didn't know until speaking to Barbara and Marty is that gardening is a perfect fit for the kind of exercise our bones need. A recent study showed that women who garden received greater benefits to their bone health than those taking an aerobics or dance class. Barbara advises that exercising for bone health doesn’t have to be intense--you don’t even need to break a sweat. Just about everything we do in the garden--kneeling to pull weeds, pushing a lawn mower, or even just walking around to see what’s blooming--is the kind of weight-bearing exercise that builds better bones.
And while the most important thing is that you garden, rather than what you garden, Barbara suggests that it doesn’t hurt to plant some calcium-rich veggies like broccoli or bok choy while you’re at it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

While My Garden Gently Weeps

I've just planted the newest major addition to my back yard--a weeping Santa Rosa plum tree. I've planted it at the back west corner of my lot, where I think it will look great once it fills out.

I first heard learned about these trees when I was at the California Rare Fruit Growers' scion exchange in January. I came across a bag of scions labeled "Santa Rosa Weeping Plum" and thought to myself, "huh?" The thing is that most flowering trees that have a weeping form are created by grafting the scion on upside down. But the weeping Santa Rosa was discovered as a bud mutation of the regular Santa Rosa, so its weeping form comes naturally. I've read conflicting information about whether it is more or less productive than a regular Santa Rosa, but I expect it will be productive enough for me. Santa Rosa plums are so delicious too. I expect it won't fruit for a couple more years--I can't wait!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Daffodil Sampler

I'd forgotten that I've been adding a few varieties of daffodils over the last three years. The little tete-a-tete daffs have already bloomed out, but most of the rest are in bloom now and there are enough to enjoy outside as well as enough to cut for inside. Still to bloom are the pink daffs I planted last year. I can't wait to see how they turn out!

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

And the Winner Is...

The winner of The Curious Gardener's Almanac book giveaway is bebemiqui! Congratulations!

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A Book Review, a Book Giveaway, and a New Book Blog

The Review
The Curious Gardener's Almanac
by Niall Edworthy

For the bookish gardener with ADD, author Niall Edworthy presents The Curious Gardener's Almanac, which is in itself a curious book. It's a nicely illustrated compendium of garden tips, much of which is useful, some of which is already commonly known, and bits of which are downright odd.

First, the useful stuff: The book is organized with chapters on each season as well as on vegetables, garden wildlife, herbs, flowers, fruit, trees and shrubs, and children (as in gardening with children, not growing children). The tips, which are a combination of conventional wisdom, folk practices, and an occasional recipe, are brief, entertaining, and easy enough to put into action.

There is, however, not much new here. The most useful information seemed to be the kind of thing (like companion planting and container growing) that's already been covered in many other places. The section on garden wildlife was interesting with suggestions for pest repellents (ten ways to prevent or treat aphid damage) as well as ideas for attracting wildlife into your garden (nest boxes: ten do's and don'ts). Edworthy loves lists and peppers the book with such items as six ways to conserve water in your garden, twenty cottage garden flowers, and four spinach alternatives in your garden.

Then there are the odd bits, including the most impractical technique for seed scarification that I've ever heard of--carrying the seeds in your pocket for a few weeks with your change. But beyond that, you'll find out, for example, that Samuel Pepys enjoyed nettle porridge for breakfast, and Babe Ruth used to wear a cabbage leaf under his cap to keep his head cool while he played ball. Well . . . OK.

Edworthy subtitled his book "Centuries of Practical Garden Wisdom" and it is mostly practical and mostly wise. It won't replace any other gardening guides already on your bookshelves, but it can be an amusing and informative look at the world of gardening.

The Giveaway

Now that you've read the review, how would you like to have the book? Just leave a comment to this post (sorry, anonymous comments don't count) and on March 4, I'll pull one commenter's name from a random drawing. Check back here on that date for the winner's name.

The Blog

In what can only be described as a shockingly unusual energy burst, I've started a new blog: So Many Pages. This blog will cover all things related to books--reading them, writing them, collecting them, dusting them (should I ever get around to doing that), you name it. I expect that there will occasionally be some crossover between this blog and the new one as I enjoy reading and writing about gardens as much as I enjoy gardening (sometimes more). So if the weather is still preventing you from getting out into the garden, or if you need to take a break from pulling the first flush of spring weeds, come check out So Many Pages. It may not be as productive as gardening, but it's easier on your back.

Note: This post is being post-dated to 3/4/08 in order to keep it at the top of the blog। It was originally posted on 2/26/08.

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