An Alameda Garden: January 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Incredible Savings on UC Botanical Garden Membership with Groupon

For a very limited time (1 day, 14 hours as of this posting time) you can get a 51% discount off new memberships at UC Botanical Garden. Individual memberships are only $22 (usually $45) and family memberships are $32 (usually $65). This not only entitles you to admission to the UC Bot but also reciprocal privileges at nearly 200 gardens and arboretums across the country. Use this referral link to get the deal. The link for the UC Bot Garden deal may be in the sidebar on the right under "Berkeley."

You can check out this post I did last year about the amazing things you'll find at the UC Botanical Garden. I guarantee you'll be impressed.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Missing Under-Gardener/Cat: Have You Seen This Guy?--Updated 1/29

My very sweet orange tabby named Pumpkin has been AWOL for the past five days. He's a neutered male, three years old, with no real identifying marks other than a notch taken out of his right ear (as you can see in the photo). He is microchipped to prove he's mine. He's most likely to be in the west end of Alameda. If you see him, please e-mail me at I'm anxious to get him home as his gardening chores (chasing butterflies, chewing grass, laying around) are starting to pile up. 

Update: The prodigal cat has returned, apparently none the worse for wear. Thanks for all who expressed their concern!

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Dirt on This Year's Roses

I went to a class on rose pruning yesterday at Berkeley Hort, just to refresh my memory of how to go at it before I actually let myself loose on my roses. But the most interesting insider's tip I took away from the class was this: If you're looking to buy a lot of roses this year, you may run into some trouble. It seems that last year's bankruptcies of Jackson & Perkins and some other important rose growers have left roses in short supply throughout the country. And even the David Austin roses will be scarce because nurseries are balking at the high prices and shipping costs and ordering fewer, if any at all.

So if you have big plans for a rose garden or on the hunt for a very particular variety, you may need to work closely (and early in the year) with your local nursery to make sure your needs will be met and expect prices to be higher. I'm not saying we're on the verge of a rose bubble, but keep in mind that in seventeenth century Holland, people paid thousands for a single tulip bulb. In other words, gardeners don't have a history of tolerating plant shortages with their sanity intact. I'm just saying.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

If You Don't Know What to Do, Take Something Off

January is pruning season and there are few garden tasks I find more satisfying than pruning. Yet every time I approach pruning, my insecurities kick in. Even after a few years of doing it, I start thinking that I'm going to screw things up.

In order to build up my pruning confidence, I attended a free class in fruit tree pruning this morning at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery. It was just an hour long but it was a great refresher. Two staff people covered all the basics about pruning fruit trees and answered lots of questions. In addition, they had a different take on the advantages of summer pruning vs. winter pruning than what I'd been taught. Conventional thinking has been that it is best to do the heavier pruning on deciduous fruit trees in the winter when you can really see the structure clearly and to encourage spring growth. The instructors today, however, suggested that whatever you prune off in the winter will grow back and have to be taken off again in the summer, so you might as well wait and do the major prune in the summer (actually, May or June). Hmmm. I can see their point, but there's something about going at a bare tree when you can really see the branches that is more comforting to me. But the best advice of the whole session was this bit of wisdom: if you don't know what to do, take something off. Trees can survive bad pruning better than they can survive no pruning at all. So, as with so many other things in life, the best thing to do is just get off your ass and do it.

So I did. With freshly sharpened pruners and loppers, I started on my two young apple trees that I'm shaping into an informal espalier. Because they're still young, they needed only a few cuts. Same with the fig tree I have in a large oak barrel. The real challenge was the weeping Santa Rosa plum, which I went at with total enthusiasm. I took off the very top branches that had started to shoot straight up in order to keep a nice rounded shape and to keep the height under 8 feet. By this point I had my pruning mojo back and was really enjoying myself. I moved on to the Ranier cherry tree, which has been struggling the last couple years. I pruned off the leader to bring the height down a bit, and trimmed up most of the branches to encourage lots of new growth. Last, I did some shaping on the flowering cherry, taking out some crossing branches and opening up the center a bit. All of that pruning took only about an hour and it felt great.

If you'd like some guidance on winter pruning, you might want to check out Berkeley Hort's upcoming classes. Next Saturday (Jan. 22) they're covering rose pruning at 10:30 a.m. and they'll repeat the fruit tree pruning session on Saturday, Jan. 29 at 10:30 a.m. Get there early because seating is limited and it was packed today. Also, ask about a 10% discount on your purchases that day for anyone attending the class.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Gardening Book Good Enough to Eat

One of the best things about these bleak, midwinter days is that I'm finding a little time now to catch up on the stack of garden books I've been wanting to read. For my before-bed reading, I've been enjoying Garden Open Today by the late British writer Beverley Nichols, a cleverly written and beautifully descriptive distillation of Nichols' gardening experiences. For dog-walking and long drives, I'm listening to the audiobook version of something that's long been on my reading list, Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. It tells the story of how plants and people have co-evolved, focusing on the examples of the apple, the tulip, the potato, and the cannabis plants.

But the book that is really exciting me is a less lyrical, but no less engrossing tome by Rosalind Creasy, the grand dame of edible gardening. Her hefty new work, Edible Landscaping, which came out at the end of last year, is a book that every urban gardener who wants to grow edibles should be consulting. Creasy's mission is to take vegetables out of the vegetable garden and spread them throughout the landscape, not only to maximize the potential harvest, but also to take advantage of the natural beauty of edible plants. For her, "edible" and "ornamental" are not at all exclusive terms and with this comprehensive book, she shows us how to turn our home gardens into landscapes that are both beautiful and bountiful.

What I have often found frustrating in books on vegetable gardening is the lack of detail regarding harvesting and using, not to mention how the plant will actually look in my garden. Edible Landscaping covers all of that and much more. Beginning with chapters on the evolution of landscaping and preparing the soil and hardscape, Creasy moves on to developing a landscape plan and design basics. She then covers designing with herbs; vegetables; and fruit, berries, and nuts. She pays special attention to designing for small spaces, a must for any book intended for use by modern urban gardeners. Along with all this information there are over 300 amazing color photos (including from Creasy's own gorgeous garden) and galleries of design ideas. This combination of hard, well-researched facts and inspiring visuals are what really make me love this book.

The clincher, however, is the second half of the book--an encyclopedia of edibles. There Creasy lays out everything you need to know about 65 edible plants, including an effort scale to tell you how difficult they are to grow, suggestions on how to use in the kitchen and in the landscape, information on growing and harvesting, and ideas for purchasing. Appendixes offer further information on plant lists, pests and diseases, resources, and more.

I love it when authors (and publishers) get it that a book can be both informative and beautiful. It's clear a lot of work went into the making of this book and it will have a well-deserved space on my bookshelf for years to come.

(Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, published by Sierra Club Books, paperback, 432 pp., $39.95)

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Here's to Another Year of Gardening

Winter is a great time to reflect on the garden--your own garden, other gardens you would like to visit, or the garden of your dreams that is yet to be. Like a shelf of empty pots, the garden in January is all about possibilities and opportunities waiting to be fulfilled.

My hope is that 2011 will be a year that allows all of us more time in the garden, to dig in as well as to sit and enjoy. Happy new year!

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