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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 Random.org), 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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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Easy Does It: Is It Living Up to the Hype?

I was so excited when I read about the Easy Does It rose, the All America Rose Selection winner for 2010, and the pictures were really captivating. The promotional photos showed abundant flowers the colors of a Tequila Sunrise--gradations of orange, pink and red on scalloped-edge petals. What's more, the bush was said to have excellent disease resistance, moderately fruity fragrance, and to be "perfect in every climate." I had to have it and I asked my local nursery to put one on hold for me when they came in.

The first blooms have begun to open now and I'm taking stock of how well this rose lives up the hype surrounding it. And the conclusion so far is: well, not quite.

For starters, take a look at the promo photo:

Now take a look at the blooms I'm getting:


Much more orange-y than the promo photos, and not nearly the kind of scalloping along the edges of the petals. That scalloping was one of the rose's most interesting features because it gave it such a lush, peony-like fullness. In addition, the flower size, which was described as "Medium-large" is actually only about two inches across. And that moderately fruity fragrance? I'd describe it as mild at best.

A lot of things can affect a rose's bloom size, coloration, and fragrance, not the least of which is soil. And my rose is currently still in the pot that it came in from the nursery. They told me they put timed-release fertilizer in when they potted it up, so I don't think it's lacking for nutrients. But in the next couple weeks I'll be clearing a space for this rose in my front yard and then we'll see if there's any improvement.

Don't get me wrong--I think it's still quite an attractive rose, but it is not the spectacular beauty I was expecting. It makes me wonder what use the All America Rose Selection is at all when it comes to choosing roses for your garden.


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Monday, May 03, 2010

Love the Flower, Hate the Plant

What do you do when a long-awaited bloom finally appears and opens and it is gorgeous? I mean, bold and delicate at the same time, totally eye-catching, jaw-droppingly gorgeous? But wait. There's a catch. The plant that beautiful bloom is hanging on is a horror!

Such is the case with this black poppy I got last year from Annie's Annuals. I planted it in the fall and I knew pretty quickly that there was going to be a problem. Turns out there were a few. The first was aphids. They absolutely love this plant and have been feasting on it ever since it went in the ground. They crowd around the veins on the backs of the leaves where it's nearly impossible to dislodge them effectively with a blast from the hose. For all the juice they've sucked out of the plant, they haven't stunted its growth any. Which leads to the second problem--the plant is a sun hog. I put it in a spot where it gets sun most of the day, but it quickly sprawled along the ground about a foot away from where it was planted in order to grab more sun and then it shot up about three feet high--one long, gangly stem with several buds at the end. The base of the plant is ugly and bare, the rest looks about as good as it you can expect it to look given its poor form and bug infestation. But overall, the effect is: yuck!

There is never a time that I walk by this plant without fighting the urge to rip it right out of the ground and be done with it. But the flower! I really love its frilliness and the color is exactly what I wanted for this spot (a black-and-white garden). In the end, however, I think it's going to have to go. I plan on waiting until the seeds are ready to be harvested, collecting them for seeding elsewhere in a super-sunny spot, and then this unattractive plant will get an introduction to my composting bin.

Anyone else had a similar dilemma?

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Ethel Gloves' New Rose Gloves and a Rosier Outlook in My Garden

Things are definitely rosier in my yard this year. Last year was such a good year for roses that I decided I wanted to add more. So far I've only added two--the new Easy Does It rose and a Rosa 'Felicia' (shown at left)--but I'm already enjoying the results.

I'm also enjoying the new rose gloves that Ethel Gloves sent me to try out. These gloves have all the sturdiness of the regular Ethel Gloves and then some. I've been doing some pruning and weeding around my roses with them and I don't have a single scratch to show for it. They have suede palms and fingers and the base of the glove covers you all the way up to the elbow. There is even a little pocket near the top of the glove, although I'm not sure exactly what you'd want to put in it. But most importantly, these gloves are tough--tough enough to even handle weeding around my extra-thorny rosa rugosa.

One thing to be aware of with these gloves, however, is that they run small. I wear a size Small in the regular Ethel Gloves, but a Medium in the Rose Gloves just fits me. The rose gloves only come in Medium and Large so if your regular size is Large, you may be out of luck with the rose gloves. But give them a try--and right now you can try them at a 15% discount when you use the promo code SPRING15. And one lucky reader of An Alameda Garden can get a free pair of rose gloves. To enter, just leave a comment here telling me what roses, if any, you're growing this year. You have until midnight, Friday, May 7 to enter and I'll announce the winner on Saturday, May 8.

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