An Alameda Garden: January 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Discovering the Joys of Urban Gardening, Thanks to the Recession

Andrew Sullivan, a writer and blogger at The Atlantic, has been posting readers’ experiences throughout the Recession and has recently started posting updates on some. Today he ran an update from someone who has recently come to discover gardening. “What a rush and how fulfilling. Who knew?!” he writes.

Well, we knew. But nevertheless, welcome to the fold!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Last-of-the-Tomatoes Roasted Tomato Soup

I’ve had five Roma tomatoes sitting in a paper bag on my kitchen counter for a couple months now. When I ripped out my tomato plants, I took the green tomatoes still on the vine and put them in the bag to ripen. Since I don’t like to eat raw tomatoes in any way, shape, or form, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them.

Then a couple weeks ago I had a bowl of roasted tomato soup at a restaurant and liked it so much that I decided to try making it. I used this recipe from Creative Loafing, but used fresh basil instead of bay leaves to season it. I had to add about a pound and a half of store-bought Romas to my home-grown ones, and the recipe calls for a can of crushed roasted tomatoes as well. If I were making this in the summer or fall when I had more home-grown tomatoes, I would probably leave out the canned ones since they wouldn’t be necessary to boost the flavor. If I were making this recipe again, I would also cut down a bit on the amount of red onion—maybe just one small one instead of two.

But all in all, I was pleased with the way the soup turned out and it was definitely easy to make. With some french bread on the side, it makes a great meal for a winter’s night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hummingbird Cam

I’ve found a great way to fill those odd moments of the day when the wet weather prevents you from getting out in the garden: a live hummingbird camera. The camera is focused on an Allen’s Hummingbird sitting on a nest somewhere in Orange County, California. I just watched the mother bird do a feeding of one hatchling. I think there is one more egg in the nest that may be ready to hatch (assuming it’s viable) in the next day or so. Take a look, but get comfortable first. It’s mesmerizing.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Gardening in Small Doses

The Bay Area weather forecast tells me to expect a solid week of storms ahead—lots of much-needed rain and not-at-all-needed wind. Fine. But the garden is looking, well, horrible and I hate to lose an entire week of gardening time. Some of the things I’m itching to do, like pruning the roses and weeding, need to wait for dryer weather. But in the meantime I’m making a list of small tasks in and around the garden, things I can do in brief bits of time in between cloudbursts or under the cover of the carport. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
  1. Cleaning up and re-potting three geraniums in the back yard.
  2. Starting some coleus seeds for the front porch.
  3. Starting some marigold seeds in a box by the back steps. (And remembering to cover the box with chicken wire to keep the cat from laying in it.)
  4. Finally potting the tete-a-tete daffodil bulbs. (Yikes! This is really late.)
  5. Sowing sweet pea seeds (again, oh so late!).
  6. Starting a crop of micro-greens to grow in the kitchen.
  7. Sharpening and oiling tools.

That’s just for starters. Any of these tasks can be done in 15 minutes or less. Let’s see how many I actually get through this week.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Scenes from a Scion Exchange

The California Rare Fruit Growers really know how to throw a scion exchange. Maybe due to the change in venue from San Francisco to Berkeley or maybe because of the public's increased interest in edible gardening, this year's exchange seemed to draw an even larger crowd. And I doubt anyone was disappointed. As usual, there were tables overflowing with bags of fruit tree cuttings, organized by fruit type and labeled with variety. Around the perimeter of the room there were tables with rootstocks or supplies to purchase and experienced fruit growers to ask all the questions you can think of.

My goal was very simple this year: I just wanted cherry cuttings to graft to my Ranier cherry tree. I went with a list of potential cross-pollinators and came away with three varieties to try--Black Tartian, Black Republican, and Van. For the cost of a $4 donation and another $1 to purchase some more parafilm to do the grafts, I may finally get some cherries!

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Bloom Day January 2010

The garden is looking pretty ragged right now, but there are still blooms--or at least blooms in the making, like the hyacinth and chasmanthe buds above. But I really liked the white rose—it looks like a rumpled bed!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

CA Rare Fruit Growers’ Scion Exchange Comes to Berkeley

This Saturday (Jan. 16) the Golden Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers is hosting its annual scion exchange from noon to 3 pm at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley. This is a great opportunity not only to get scions (cuttings for grafting) from an astounding variety of fruit trees, but to see grafting demonstrations and talk to really knowledgeable people about growing fruit trees in this area.  There’s also a silent auction, a raffle, and some tastings. You can also buy some rootstocks there and have a grafting expert do the graft for you. A $4 donation is requested to help cover costs. This is a very cool event that only comes once a year. If you’re into fruit-growing, don’t miss it!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Taking Care of Business

Blogging is great fun but it’s a lot more fun (and challenging and interesting for all concerned) when you know there are people actually reading your blog. And, naturally, the more the merrier. So I’m making an effort this year to try to boost the readership of An Alameda Garden.

If you like what you read here and want to be sure not to miss any of it, you can become a Subscriber or Follower. In the middle column of this blog page, you’ll find links to click to Subscribe or Follow.

If you’re a member of (which you should be if you like garden blogs), you can Fave An Alameda Garden. Once you log into Blotanical, you can search for An Alameda Garden and click the link to Fave the blog or or search for my name (Claire Splan) and Fave me as a blotanist. You’ll then be able to find my posts easily under the My Faved Blogs Posts link.

And while I’m in shameless self-promotion mode, I’ll ask for your vote as Best Blogger in Alameda Magazine’s Best of Alameda contest. Click the button on the left to go to the ballot page where you can write in “Claire Splan/An Alameda Garden” for the Best Blogger category.

Last but definitely not least, I’d like to hear from you. What kind of posts do you enjoy the most? What kind do you like the least? Would you like to see An Alameda Garden develop as a regional gardening news site? Or do you like it best when it’s personal? I’d really like to know!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Garden Railroad Shrinks Disneyland Down to Size

Ever since I visited the Golden Gate Express exhibit at the SF Conservatory of Flowers a couple weeks ago, I’ve been captivated by garden railways. Since I don’t think one of these will be springing up in my yard any time soon, I have to look elsewhere. Check out this video about an architect and former Disney employee who installed a little bit of the magic kingdom in his own backyard:

(H/T: TwoGreenThumbs,

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Thinking About Winter Gardens

The New York Times has an article today by Paula Deitz about the beauty of winter gardens and how they allow us to move through them introspectively “without the usual distractions of colorful palettes and lush foliage.” The accompanying slideshow presents two distinctly different examples with shots of the botanical gardens in Brooklyn and Santa Barbara, the first snow-covered and frozen, the second still verdant but nonetheless subdued.

Winter gardens here in the Bay Area tend to fall somewhere in between those two examples. Those who say that the Bay Area doesn’t have seasons just aren’t paying attention. In winter, however, the seasonal change can be subtler here than in most other places. As a rule, there is no snow to wipe everything clean, and in those freakish moments when snow does come, it doesn’t last. But things are certainly not static. Winter gardens here are wet and wind-swept without ever being completely dormant. California natives, intoxicated by the sudden flush of rain, put on quite a show of new growth and some, such as manzanitas and ceanothus, are in full bloom. Even non-natives, like the flowering camellias, jasmine, and primroses, seem happy to be wintering here and come dressed for the occasion.

Since I’ve only ever lived in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles (my college years—don’t ask how long ago), I have no experience with more extreme winter gardens. There are times when I long for a garden that shuts down completely for the winter, giving the gardener a welcome respite. But ask me again on a day in early February when we’re having a burst of False Spring and I can experience that rare intersection of t-shirt weather and daffodils in bloom and I’ll deny ever having said that.

When I really stop to think about winter gardens there is one particular garden that my mind goes back to. It is the garden of the Rodin Museum in Paris, where I spent an afternoon on a frigid March day 14 years ago. I’m not a fan of the prissy formality of French gardens. But in the winter, you can see the bones of the garden, and that forced symmetry that seems so fussy at other times takes on a kind of basic, skeletal beauty.

Without, as Deitz would say, the distraction of a colorful palette and lush foliage, Rodin’s garden was still able to enchant. Instead of preening, it was laid bare, adorned only by naked wood and odd iconic shapes…

And art. Rodin’s sculptures are installed throughout the garden, in all their bronze, muscled glory. The nakedness of the sculptures fits well with the nakedness of the winter landscape.

Both leave ample room for thought.

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South Bay Scion Exchange Tomorrow

The South Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers is holding its annual scion exchange tomorrow in San Jose. Details here. The Golden Gate chapter is holding it scion exchange on January 16 in Berkeley—more on that next week.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Seed Varieties at Renee’s Garden

As if their previous selection wasn’t enough to overwhelm the senses, Renee’s Garden is introducing 16 new seed varieties for 2010. Check them out here. I love the “Falling in Love” Shirley poppies and I’m going to have to try a few of those pole beans. So many seeds, so little time/money/gardening space!

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

“Easy Does It”—I Want It!

Check out Rayford Clayton Reddell’s article in today’s SF Chronicle about All-America Rose Selection’s prize-winning rose for 2010, Easy Does It. It’s a ruffled, eye-catching floribunda that’s disease-resistant to boot. I want it!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Fun and Games in the Garden

Let’s start the year out right by focusing on having fun in the garden. Clearly, San Francisco artist Nomi Klein was thinking that way when she created a giant chess game in the back yard of her home in the Outer Richmond district. As profiled by Brigid Gaffikin in the San Francisco Examiner, Klein’s fiberglass chess pieces stand on a 16’ by 16’ board made out of paving tiles. The pieces weigh about 12 pounds each and stand as tall as 43 inches high.

I’m not much of a chess player myself. My game is Scrabble and I’ve often thought about painting a large Scrabble board on the concrete patio area of my back yard. The letter tiles would be easy to create out of wood, although storing them could take up quite a bit of space.

I’ve seen articles showing outdoor checkers game boards, using flower pots as the checker pieces. Backgammon would also be fairly easy to make. But I wonder what other board games people have re-created in their yards. Monopoly? Or perhaps Clue? (Hint: It’s Professor Plum in the rose garden with the pruners.)

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Happy New Year!

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