An Alameda Garden: 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air

I happened to catch an episode of "Nature" this morning about hummingbirds and found it truly mesmerizing. I think one of the biggest rewards of gardening is creating an environment that encourages these spry, cheeky acrobats to stop by and spend some of their very busy days. This show was packed with details about hummers that I never knew and had some intriguing stories about how specific plants and hummingbirds have adapted themselves to each other. If our local Anna's hummingbirds have won your heart, you really should check out this show. You can watch it online here.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shopping Alert: Annie's Annuals Gift Certificates

Gift certificates for Annie's Annuals (perhaps the best nursery in the Bay Area) are on sale for 15% off now through November 30. The certificates are good for purchases made online or in Annie's retail nursery so they can make gardeners everywhere happy. What a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer idea!

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dallas Arboretum

It's taken me a while to get back to organizing and prepping my photos from my trip to Dallas in September, but I'm finally getting it done. I decided to make the presentation a little more fun by using This video (my first of this type) presents photos from my visit to the Dallas Arboretum with the GWA Symposium group. It was a brutally hot and humid day but even that couldn't kill my appreciation for this truly spectacular public garden. Enjoy the show!

Create your own video slideshow at

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Monday, October 11, 2010

This Little Figgy

I've been waiting, watching, hoping for the past few months that my young Brown Turkey fig tree would actually produce some fruit this autumn for the first time. The tree, which is planted in a large oak barrel, is still small and I don't have much experience with fresh figs. In fact, I've only tasted a few before. I wasn't even sure I'd like this variety. Then as each of about a dozen fruits grew fat and plump, my concerns shifted into two categories--weather and wildlife. Problem #1: Would the mild weather we've had all summer be enough to actually ripen and sweeten the figs? And problem #2: If the figs did ripen, would I be able to beat the local varmints that stripped my plum tree earlier this year to my tiny harvest?

But the news is good on both counts. One by one, the figs are softening and turning a gorgeous purply-brown, and so far, the neighborhood squirrels, raccoons and possums are showing no interest in them. So one by one, I'm pulling each precious parcel off the tree. With such a minuscule bounty, each one is a treat to be savored.

There may be no fig jam or home-baked fig newtons this year, but so far there has been diced fig in oatmeal, sliced fig on top of sourdough crispbread spread with soft cheese, and tonight there was fig and feta on top of my salad of baby greens. Each one has been soft and sweet with beautiful deep rose-colored flesh. It is ridiculous how proud I feel of them. They are, after all, just figs.

But oh ... my ... god! What a fruit this is!

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And the Winner Is...

Grumblebunny! Please e-mail me your mailing address so I can put the P.Allen Smith Container Garden Deck and the Botanical Interest seed packets in the mail to you.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Last Chance to Enter for Giveaway!

Today is your last chance to enter for a chance to win some garden goodies from P. Allen Smith and Botanical Interests seeds. See this post for information and post a comment there to enter!

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall Plant Sale at UC Botanical Garden

Save the date: Sunday, September 26, is the date of the Fall Plant Sale at the UC Botanical Garden. The public sale runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but if you’re lucky enough (or smart enough) to be a member, you can shop the sale and attend the members’ silent auction from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Click here for details and tips on how to make the most of the sale and a detailed plant availability list.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloom Day

Shades of blue and purple today:

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Back from Big D (With a Gardening Giveaway!)

I've just returned from four days in Dallas where I attended the Garden Writers Association's annual symposium. I had my doubts about going, but I am so glad I did. I met so many writers and photographers, and they were all friendly and generous with their knowledge, experience and advice. I attended seminars where I picked up great tips on writing, photography, and marketing. I toured the spectacular Dallas Arboretum and many gorgeous private home gardens (don't worry--I'll be posting photos of those over the next few days). And oh my god, the swag! I came home with a bag full of Corona tools, a couple t-shirts, books, assorted samples of soil additives and fungicides and other goodies, and about a dozen or more new plants. (And I do mean "new"--these are new cultivars that nurseries will be introducing next year.)

Most importantly, I've come back feeling somewhat refreshed and very inspired. I dug into my garden today with renewed enthusiasm, and I'm planning some new writing projects that I can't wait to get to. I also came back to the Bay Area with a new appreciation for the cool, foggy weather we've had all summer. (Turns out that Dallas in September is basically one big steambath. Great for tropical plants, not so great for people.)

But it's time to share some goodies. One lucky winner picked at random will receive a package containing P. Allen Smith's Container Gardens Deck (with 50 recipe cards for year-round container gardening), and two large packages of seeds from Botanical Interests--Cosmos Celebration in Pink (a fundraiser pack benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure) and a Save the Bees mix. Total value of the package: $25.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post saying what was the best garden city you've ever visited. The contest will be closed for entries on Monday, Sept. 19. at midnight. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Update: I'm extending this giveaway for one more week. The contest will now close on Monday, Sept. 27 at midnight. The winner will be announced Tuesday, Sept. 28.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

More Tomatoes for Non-Tomato-Lovers

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while may recall that although I enjoy growing tomatoes, I am not one of those gardeners who lives for the first juicy bite of a fresh-off-the-vine homegrown tomato. Actually, I think raw tomatoes, homegrown or store-bought, are quite awful and a little disgusting. (Really, how can anyone love that goo the seeds float in?)

But because I love to grow tomatoes (or attempt to grow them, as my efforts this year are rather pathetic), I try to find tomato recipes that I can enjoy. I posted earlier this year about a roasted tomato soup that I made. And now I've found a recipe in the NY Times Magazine I'd like to try--tomato sliders. These itty-bitty things come under the category of amuse-bouche--bite-size morsels that pack a lot of flavor so that restaurants can still charge shockingly high prices for what is really very little food. The article and recipe explain it very well, but as a preview, I'll tell you that it is basically little buns made with almond flour, tomatoes diced into something like a confit, and a layer of a mascarpone-goat cheese mixture. Yee gads, that sounds like something even a non-tomato-lover such as myself might love.

I might wait to see if I get any tomatoes from my garden to use in this recipe, but if anyone else makes this recipe, please report back--can they really be as tasty as they sound?

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Daydreaming and Gardening in Swedish

I've been reading books from Sweden lately--The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and the Wallander series--and watching the movies and BBC TV series adapted from the books and as a result, I'm having serious Sweden fantasies. I would love to travel there, right now, today, but a trip like that would take far more kroner than I have available. So I've been doing the next best thing--visiting garden blogs from Sweden.

I started by checking in at and surveying the map of garden blogs from Sweden. From the links I found there, I also began to follow blogroll links out to cover a vast network of Swedish garden blogs. There are surprisingly many, considering this is a place with such long winters. But Swedish gardeners seem to make the most of their growing season and perhaps the long days of summer make things grow at hyperspeed. The gardens look lush and vibrant and the settings are charming and quaint.

And yes, there is a language barrier since I speak not a word of Swedish and the blogs are mostly written in their native language (although it seems most Swedes seem to speak at least some English). But great garden pics work in any language. And somehow the gardeners' enthusiasm for their gardens translates as well.

Here are some of the Swedish garden blogs I've been enjoying:
I can tell this is just the beginning of a blog-reading obsession. Not as good as being there in person but pretty enjoyable nonetheless.

Anyone else out there up for a garden tour of Sweden next summer???

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

DIY Vertical Garden Planter

I haven't quite decided how I feel about this new vertical gardening craze. Sure, some of them look great, but I guess I'm still rather skeptical about the long-term viability of them, not to mention the maintenance. But for those of you who love the concept, I just thought I'd pass along a link to a tutorial to make your own wall planters similar to those Woolly Pockets so many decorating magazines are flipping over (note: the decor magazines seem to love them more than the gardening magazines, something else that makes me skeptical). The tutorial uses craft felt and plywood backing and looks easy enough to put together. The felt pockets are attached to the plywood with a staple gun--again, call me a skeptic, but is that really going to be strong enough to handle the weight of potting soil, plants, and water? If anyone out there actually makes these, please let me know how they work out.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Useless Local Garden Trivia: Official Flowers

Did you know that the dahlia is the official flower of San Francisco? The city's Board of Supervisors declared it so on October 4, 1926. And here's something for the bonus round: Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared Saturday to be Dahlia Flower Day.

Does Alameda have an official flower? If it does, I can't find what it is. But I think it should have one. Maybe something that grows well here and loves our sandy soil, but isn't exactly ubiquitous. My vote would be for the Pacific Coast Iris (Iris douglasiana). Any other suggestions?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bloom Day

And I'm back. Not that I was ever away. But work and other demands temporarily moved blogging off of my to-do list. Some gardening happened in the meanwhile, but not nearly enough. Hopefully, that's about to change.

But today is Bloom Day and instead of posting photos of everything that's blooming, I thought I'd just post the most amazing thing that's blooming:

Yep, sweet peas cut from my garden. In August. All you climate change-deniers out there, 'splain that if you can.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pay Tribute to a Loved One and Help the UC Botanical Garden Pocket $30K

In times like these when every organization's budget is getting cut to the bone and then some, those responsible for raising funds have to get creative and extra-resourceful. The folks at UC Botanical Garden are doing just that. They've found a benevolent family that is willing to give $30,000 to the garden if they can get commitments for 100 tribute bricks in their Tribute Plaza by June 30. The bricks aren't cheap ($500 or $900, depending on size), but they are a lovely memorial or honor, and a great way to commemorate graduations, retirements, weddings, even Father's Day. As of June 10, the Garden had commitments for 63 tribute bricks, which means they need 37 more by the end of the month in order to get the $30K. If you're looking for a meaningful way of paying tribute to someone in your life--and supporting an important public garden--this may be the perfect way.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Playing Host to Wildlife: A Blog Carnival

Life on the Balcony posted a blog carnival today on the subject of encouraging wildlife in your garden. The emphasis is on container gardens, but these ideas would really work anywhere. Check it out if you're looking for ways to bring those birds and bees back to your yard!

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alameda Backyard Chicken Coop Bicycling Tour

Chickens in Alameda? Apparently so. And tomorrow (Sunday, 5/16) you can visit seven different chicken coops in Alameda and chat with their keepers about the chicken-and-egg experience. People are encouraged to bike the tour, which in lovely, hill-free Alameda is a pretty easy way to spend an afternoon. Details are in this article in  the SF Chronicle.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

If You Build It, They (Hummingbirds, That Is) Will Come

When I moved into my house eight years ago, the garden was pretty much a blank slate. The front yard contained a horrible lawn and one small, sickly rosebush. The backyard contained an even worse lawn and three large potted palms that never, ever had more than three fronds each and that were a magnet for some really disgusting bugs. That was it. Yes, it was low-maintenance. It was also not pretty to look at. And worse, there was absolutely no wildlife around. It was as if my property was a dead zone for birds, butterflies, and bees.

I particularly missed having birds around. Because I had cats, I didn't want to attract a lot of sparrows and similar small birds to my yard by setting out bird feeders. I also knew that bird feeders were a good way to attract squirrels, and I didn't want to encourage the squirrel population explosion that we are experiencing in this area. But I was hopeful that I could get hummingbirds to stop by for a visit, given the right inducements. I knew that they were fast enough that would stand a better chance of evading the cats, and they would be attracted by plants alone without having to put out feeders and seed.

It took two to three years for the hummingbirds to become regular visitors, but now I can spot them almost every day in my garden. Although it is often said that hummingbirds are attracted to red, I've found that they're happy with flowers of any color, and since they have no sense of smell, fragrance is not an issue either. What does seem to matter is the shape of the flower. They are very attracted to flowers with a tubular shape and because of their agility they can seek out those flowers on tall vines as easily as they can in low potted shrubs.

Here are a few of the plants that they've responded to best in my garden:
  • Salvia
  • Fuchsia
  • Cuphea
  • Foxglove
  • Anigozanthos
  • Mimulus
Just a few pots of these plants can make a big difference in attracting hummingbirds to a garden. Once they know you've set out a buffet for them, they'll keep coming back again and again. I love watching them dart around my garden and hover just a foot or two away from my head as I'm watering. I see them not just as creatures of beauty and grace, but also as a sign that my garden is a healthier place, and no longer the dead zone it was a few years ago.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Pay Raise, But Plenty of Carrots

Is a corporate garden a fair substitute for pay increases and other employee benefits? The New York Times has an article about a new perk that is popping up in some corporations: organic gardens for employees to plant, maintain, and harvest. I can certainly understand the benefits for employees: fresh veggies, either to take home or to enjoy there at work, and a break from the office routine to get out in the sunshine and garden for a bit. But I wonder if an office garden doesn't become just one more thing that an office worker has to add to his or her to-do list, and just one more thing that keeps them spending more time at work instead of at home. I think this might be one of those ideas that managers come up with to make workers feel like they're being cared for, when they're really just trying to distract them from the fact that they're having to work more hours for less money. Do I sound overly cynical?

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Emily Dickinson's Garden

I'm having very bad New York City cravings lately. Honestly, it's all I can do to keep myself from whipping out a credit card and jumping on a plane. There are the usual lures on my mind--the theatres, the museums, the black-and-white cookies--but right now there's an additional reason why I'd like to be there: a chance to stroll through Emily Dickinson's garden.

How often do you get the chance to visit the thoroughly researched, re-created 19th century garden of a famous American poet? But now through mid-June, the New York Botanical Garden, together with the Poetry Society of America, is offering such an opportunity. You can wander through a replica of Dickinson's family property in Amherst, Massachusetts and view personal artifacts belonging to the poet. You can also tour the Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk, where 30 poetry boards and audio messages offer interpretations of the poems that were so inspired by Dickinson's love of nature and the garden.

It sounds like a lovely mixture of gardening, literature, and history and it pains me to miss out on seeing it. So if you happen to be in New York in the coming weeks, maybe you can check it out for me.

And have a black-and-white cookie for me too.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Can Your Compost Pass the Test?

There was a fair amount of press last month over the topic of "biosolids" being given away in San Francisco as compost for home gardeners. Several local news stations reported on it and the SF Chronicle covered it as well. What was all the fuss? The Organic Consumers Association, a national environmental group, claimed that the composted biosolids given away by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission "potentially contains thousands and thousands of contaminants." The group's leader, John Stauber, "claimed that tests conducted by his organization found dioxins, flame retardants and other chemicals in the compost, but he has declined to release comprehensive results." The SFPUC, of course, adamantly disputes the group's claims and frankly, I'm skeptical of anyone who says they have scientific proof of something but won't show it.

But the truth is, with the exception of our own home-grown compost, it's hard for us to know for sure what's in any of the compost we buy or otherwise acquire. Compost can be a bit of a leap of faith, when you come right down to it. But I did recently come across this easy home test for compost from Mother Earth News. Using just a couple of bean seedlings, you can test to see if your compost contains herbicide residues. Not a complete safety test, by any means, but it's a start.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

We Have a Winner!

The winner of the Ethel Gloves rose glove giveaway is the 4th entry (chosen by, Lydia. Congratulations, Lydia! And thanks to everyone who participated. Don't forget that you can order rose gloves at a 15% discount at the Ethel Gloves web site using the promo code SPRING15.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Last Chance to Enter to Win Rose Gloves

Today is your last chance to enter to win a pair of rose gloves from Ethel Gloves (value: $32). Post a comment here to enter. I'll post the winner tomorrow. Good luck!

And don't forget you can order these gloves at 15% off  from the Ethel Gloves site using the promo code SPRING15.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Interior Walls Can Go Green Too

The New York Times has a great article and slideshow on the subject of vertical gardens--brought indoors! It's an intriguing idea, but I can't help but wonder what some of these "green rooms" would do to the humidity level on those already humid summer days in New York. Greenhouses are lovely, but would you want to live in one?

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