An Alameda Garden: 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Attention Last-Minute Shoppers! Give Someone You Love a Whole Garden Show!

Need one final down-to-the-wire Christmas gift for that special gardener in your life (even if that's yourself!)? Give a ticket to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show! The show will be held March 19-23, 2014 at the San Mateo Event Center and early-bird purchases of one-day tickets can be had for as little as $16. Next year's show is under new ownership and from what I hear, there will be some welcome changes to this show that, although fun, was maybe getting a bit stale. Some of the changes include improvements to the presentation of the display gardens and special workshops, including two garden photography workshops with the amazing photographers Saxon Holt and David Perry (separate fee applies for these workshops). What gardener wouldn't like to find this ticket in her stocking? Bonus: You don't even have to get out of your pajamas to purchase! Just click here.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Freeze Alert!

Bay Area gardeners, take note! Nighttime temperatures are expected to dip in the next few nights, going below freezing in some areas. Take the time to protect tender plants, including citrus trees and any plants that were only recently planted. Container plants are also vulnerable, even more so than those in the ground, so move as many of those as you can under cover.

To wrap plants, you can use Reemay cloth, or "frost blankets." You can also use burlap fabric to wrap the plants, particularly if you can add piles of leaves inside for insulation.

If you can't wrap all your plants, you can try an anti-transpirant spray like Wilt-Pruf or Cloud Cover.

Also, be sure to water your plants well before the frost hits. Well-watered plants are better able to tolerate the cold.

Stay warm!

Photo: Stock.xchng

Monday, December 02, 2013

For the Gardeners on Your Christmas List: California Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

If your shopping list includes a California gardener, my book California Fruit and Vegetable Gardening would make a welcome gift, full of inspiring ideas and information for next year's garden. With growing information on more than 60 fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts specifically tailored for California gardeners, this book will provide value well beyond its price.

And if you order today from, you can take advantage of Amazon's CyberMonday deal and get an additional 30% off the price! Christmas shopping doesn't get any easier than that!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Get Ready for Fall Planting!

Now that it is officially autumn, it's time to shift gears in the garden. While in other parts of the country, gardeners are closing up shop for the year, here in the Bay Area, the autumnal equinox just signals that it's time to garden differently. There are different food crops to grow, bulbs to dig in, and lots to clean up.

I'm participating in a few events in the next few weeks that will be a fun way to get us all motivated for the seasonal shift. First up, I'll be speaking this Saturday, Sept. 28th at an all-day event called "A Garden for All Seasons: Edibles" at the Marin Art and Garden Center that's sponsored by the UC Marin Master Gardeners and The Garden Conservancy. The entire program runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and I'll be speaking from 2 to 3 p.m. on the best fruits and vegetables to grow right now and into winter in the Bay Area. This event also features presentations by Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner, authors of The Beautiful Edible Landscape, and  Merrilee Olson, founder of Preserve Sonoma. Get more info and register for this event here.

Leslie Bennett and I will be talking with Lyons Filmer of KWMR (90.5 Point Reyes Station / 89.9 Bolinas) about this Saturday's program "A Garden for All Seasons: Edibles" this morning at 11:00 a.m., so tune in to get a preview of what we'll be covering.
Next month on Saturday, Oct. 19, I'll be at the Los Angeles County Arboretum at a program called "Live Long and Landscape." This event, also co-sponsored by The Garden Conservancy, is focused on the part that gardening plays in healthy living. In addition some other great speakers, I'll be talking about the healthy fruits and vegetables you can grow this season. Get more info and register for this event here.

I'll be posting more this week on some of the great gardens I visited this summer in the Bay Area during the Garden Bloggers Fling in June and in Montreal and Quebec City last month while at the Garden Writers Association Symposium. So many great gardens! So many photos to organize! Be sure to check back.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Fling

Sometimes you just have to break out of the usual humdrum routine and have a little Fling. Garden bloggers have been doing this on a yearly basis for the past few years but I haven't been able to make the previous trips, which have occurred in such great garden spots as Seattle, Asheville, Buffalo, Chicago and Austin. This year, however, they were kind enough to schedule the Fling practically in my backyard. It's San Francisco this year, and I'm so, so ready for it.

The Fling runs from Friday through Sunday with a pre-Fling get-together Thursday night. The itinerary includes public and private garden spots as well as a couple great nurseries and the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. I'm particularly looking forward to visiting Filoli and the Sunset headquarters as well as the gardens of designers Shirley Watts and Keeyla Meadows.

But the best part will certainly be meeting so many great garden bloggers who I've only known so far in the cyber sense. It'll be great to meet them face to face and share gardening and blogging stories and tips.

So check back next week when I'll be sharing photos of some of the amazing gardens I'll be seeing and people I'll be meeting. After all, what good is having a fling if you can't brag about it afterwards?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Help with the Summer Pruning

People are often confused about when and how much to prune their trees in the summer. Prune too much and you can take away too much of the tree canopy when the trunk and branches need it for protection from sunburn. Prune too little and the tree can quickly become overgrown, requiring more severe pruning later on. There are plenty of places to read up on how to prune correctly but I've found that nothing beats seeing it done by a pro, preferably in a hands-on setting. Here's your opportunity to do that--two sets of workshops that will get your summer pruning skills up to snuff (or at least considerably improved).

Ann Ralph, formerly of Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, has four workshops scheduled in back yards around the bay area to show you how to summer-prune your fruit trees. I attended a brief pruning workshop that Ann did at Berkeley Hort a few years back and came away after one hour feeling very confident about pruning my trees. Here are the dates and times:
  • Saturday, June 8, Oakland, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
  • Sunday, June 9, Berkeley, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 22, San Pablo, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
  • Sunday, June 23, Kensington, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
For more information about the locations and to register, visit Ann's website at, email her at, or call her at 209-296-5797.

If you've planted a new tree in the last year or two, you're probably aware that correct pruning in these formative years can make the difference between a beautiful, healthy tree at maturity, or a problematic and potentially hazardous eyesore. Learn the ins and outs of the art of young tree pruning from Brian Kempf, the Director of the Urban Tree Foundation. This workshop, sponsored by Canopy of Palo Alto, will include 1.5 hours of classroom training and 2.5 hours of hands-on field training. No experience is required, but if you do have pruning experience, are a landscape professional, or an arborist, great! CEUs will be available for ISA certified arborists and tree workers. The workshop will take place on June 15th, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Nixon Elementary, 1711 Stanford Avenue in Stanford.
The workshop itself is free but they do ask that if you attend the workshop that you commit to volunteering at one of the follow-up volunteer tree care work days where you can practice your new pruning skills on the following dates:
  • Saturday, June 22nd 9am-12pm
  • Saturday, June 29th 9am-12pm
  • Saturday, July 13th 9am-12pm
  • Thursday, July 27th, 6pm-8pm
These events will give you hands-on training and provide a service to the community. Pruning shears and gloves will be available, but if you have your own, you should bring them.

To register for the Art of Young Tree Pruning Workshop, click here or email

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Knock Out® Rose Hedge: You Can Grow That!

I'm getting ready to plant a hedge of Sunny Knock Out® Roses in my front yard. These fragrant, pale yellow shrub roses, which grow 3 to 5 feet high with a 3 to 4 foot spread, will be just the thing to provide a bit of privacy from the sidewalk and shield some of the edibles that I plan to grow out front. I've been growing a couple of them in pots and find them to be as easy to care for as advertised. I like that they don't require deadheading and that pruning is a fairly simple task. I've also found that once they are settled in and established, they are reasonably drought-resistant.

I should note that this is not the prime time to be planting roses. A better time would have been in late winter/early spring, or in the fall. But I rarely am on time with my planting and I find that plants are surprisingly tolerant of my bad planning. Knock Out® Roses are proving to be very tough plants with strong disease resistance, so I expect they will be able to hold their own and settle in well enough as long as I keep them adequately watered through the summer.

So here's the plan for putting in the hedge:

For a hedge that's approximately 16 feet long, I'm planting 5 roses 1 1/2 feet back from the edge of the sidewalk where they will get more than the required 6 hours of direct sun each day. To plant, dig holes that are as deep as the containers they're in and twice as wide. Fill in with soil amended with compost and water them in well. That's all there really is to it. If you are planting in late winter/early spring, check out this video on how to properly plant bare-root roses.

With all the rest of this year to get established and after getting a trim early next spring (check out this video on how to prune Knock Out® Roses), I hope that next year I'll have a hedge that looks something this:

This post is part of the You Can Grow That! monthly blog series. Check here for more posts by other garden bloggers on how to grow all kinds of edibles and ornamentals. 
Photo credits: Star® Roses and Plants/Conard-Pyle

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Guerrilla Gardener's Guide to the Recession (A Kindle Short Story)

Sometimes even the most dedicated garden writer has to dabble in something other than the usual "how to" kind of writing. I've always enjoyed writing fiction and recently my fiction-writing and garden interests collided in a short story that I had a lot of fun working on. Rather than shopping it around to magazines, I decided to just put it up on as a Kindle ebook.

The story is called "The Guerrilla Gardener's Guide to the Recession" and before I tell you  what the story is about, let me tell you what it isn't:
  • It isn't a novel; it's a short story, so don't expect a long read.
  • It isn't a guide to gardening in any way, shape or form. Seriously.
  • It isn't one of those sweet, cozy garden stories. This is gardening with a bit of an edge.
And here's the description I posted on Amazon:
"Welcome to Garden Gates, California, a new development in the Central Valley where dreams turned to dust when the housing bubble burst. As one home after another falls to foreclosure, it's up to the Garden Gates Garden Club to keep the struggling town blooming. But when seed-bombing and weed-whacking are no longer enough, the guerrilla gardeners are forced to extend their gardening skills in order to keep their little community intact."
If it sounds like the kind of thing you'd like to read, you're in luck--it's free today! Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gardening for Geeks (Book Review)

I know that for some people gardening is little more than digging holes and sticking plants in them--and it is surprising how much success you can have doing just that. But to my way of thinking, it's hard to separate gardening from the more complex (and, I think, more interesting) issues that surround and bubble through the garden--issues like pollinators, soil health, pest control, disease prevention, microclimates, and on, and on, and on. I think gardening becomes more fascinating and more successful when you start to embrace those other topics--and that, according to Christy Wilhelmi's way of looking at things, is when you officially become a "garden geek."

Wilhelmi is the founder of, where she dispenses all kinds of wisdom on organic gardening in the form of blog posts, podcasts, and monthly newsletters. Now she has put it all together in a new book, Gardening for Geeks, an extremely useful and readable guide to some of the issues you might be ignoring that can really affect the health, beauty and productivity of your garden.

Gardening for Geeks helps you to see your garden more as an ecosystem and work to keep it in balance. It is basic enough to be understandable to newbie gardeners (in fact, I would highly recommend it to new gardeners) but seasoned gardeners will also find new (or old) techniques to try. There is a substantial emphasis on edible gardening but much of the information will apply to ornamental gardening as well.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is the title. Depending on how you interpret the word "geek," it can be a little misleading. I confess I was expecting a much more tech sort of book with a lot of information on gardening apps and gadgets, but people looking for that will be disappointed and people who might be scared off by the tech-y sounding title will be missing out on a really good gardening guide. Fear not. This is a book that any gardener can grasp and utilize. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Butterflies & Blooms at the SF Conservatory of Flowers

A new exhibit opens today at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers celebrating one of the most fascinating of all the insects--butterflies.

From now until October 20, you'll be able to wander amongst more than 20 species of North American butterflies as they flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar and doing their all-important pollination work. Among the species represented are monarchs, Western swallowtails, and red admirals as well as a number of giant moths.

In addition, visitors will be able to observe the butterflies' chrysalises in the Butterfly Bungalow and perhaps even be present to witness a butterfly's emergence into the world.

I'm looking forward to seeing this exhibit and you can see it too, Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 to 4. Check the Conservatory's website for admission prices and directions.
Photo Credits: Ron Lewis

Monday, May 06, 2013

Dahlias: You Can Grow That!

I may be wrong, but I honestly think the hardest part of growing dahlias is picking which stunning varieties you want to grow out of the hundreds available. Every year I've gone to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show and looked at the vendor booths selling dahlias, intending to buy but ultimately being overwhelmed by the incredible selection. Every year I left without making a purchase. This year, however, was different. I stopped by the booth for Elkhorn Garden and while I stood there dazed before the photos of all the gorgeous blooms, the exhibitor started chatting with me and before I knew it he had walked me through some options and helped me pick out four varieties.

I'll be planting my dahlias this week and here's how it will go. I'm planting them in a bed in my front yard where they'll get full sun. Before planting, I'm going to add some compost and work it into the soil. The tubers don't need to be planted very deep--only about three inches below the soil line--but it's important that the "eyes" of the tuber (where the sprouts will grow from) are facing up. Not every tuber has eyes, or eyes that are easy to spot, anyway. A couple of my tubers have already started to sprout but on the other two, I can't see any eyes. I'm planting them anyway and I'll wait to see if anything sprouts. I'll add a small stake next to each tuber with a label with the cultivar name. Dahlias don't need frequent watering until they start to bloom; then Elkhorn recommends soaking them about every 10 days. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which will encourage too much green growth. The dahlias should bloom throughout the summer and into fall, until there is a frost.

One of the great things about gardening in a mild climate with sandy soil is that you don't have to go through the tedious process of digging up dahlia tubers each autumn, storing them through the winter, and replanting them in the spring. Because we don't have hard freezes here in the Bay Area, and because the soil drains quickly enough that the tubers aren't likely to rot, I can leave these dahlias in the ground. In a few years I'll need to dig them up and divide them. But until then, they can stay put and it will be one less thing to worry about getting in the ground in the spring. And the guy from Elkhorn Garden gave me a great tip: At the end of the season when I cut the spent bush down to the ground, he recommended leaving a stub of a stem a couple inches above the soil line, then covering it with an overturned pot or saucer. That will prevent rainwater from accumulating in the hollow stem and rotting the tuber, and will also serve as a plant marker so I know to plant around where the dahlia will come back the following spring.

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Bay Area's Largest Plant Sale

Photo Credit: James Gaither
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is holding its huge annual plant sale tomorrow and it seems like they will have something for everyone, or at least something for everyone's garden. Over 20,000 plants will be for sale representing over 2500 varieties, including some hard-to-find special treats. Here are some of the highlights you can expect to find:
  • Several kinds of South African restios, including the very hard to germinate Cannomois virgata, a lovely, tall, reed-like plant.
  • A gorgeous selection of tropical vireya rhododendrons. SFBG is one of only a few nurseries that grow them.
  • Many rare hellebores, including Helleborus foetidus, a hard to find winter blooming evergreen.
  • 250 kinds of native plants, including Matilija poppies, native irises, up to 20 kinds of Ceanothus (wild lilac), and more.
  • Unusual perennial vegetable starts from the Andes, including oca and yac√≥n.
  • Lots of stunning, flowering shrubs, including species of Leucadendron, whose cut flowers can cost anywhere from $7-10 each.
The sale takes place tomorrow, Saturday, May 4 from 10am-2pm at the SF County Fair Building at San Francisco Botanical Garden, located in Golden Gate Park at 9th Ave at Lincoln Way. For more information, visit or call (415) 661-1316.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day to You!

Photo credit: Stock.xchng
Some 43 years after the very first Earth Day, the message should by now be quite plain: Tread lightly. This is the only planet we have.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

All the Dirt on Greensand

I have an article up on today discussing greensand as a soil amendment. Greensand improves the structure of your soil and delivers a longer-lasting benefit than most fertilizers. If you think your soil could use a boost, check it out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Handle Daffodil Bud Blast

First, you cry.

You've waited through months of cold and rain with one thought in your mind: there will be daffodils. Eventually. There will be daffodils. And then, finally, there are daffodils. A few. But what there are a whole lot of are leaves and stems topped by brown, papery, dead-looking buds that never open.

You've just been bud-blasted.

It happened to me this year. And I was so ashamed! I thought I must have done something wrong. Most of my daffs have been in the ground for several years and aside from dutifully letting the leaves die down after blooming before I clear them away, I haven't done anything with them. I've added some compost now and then, but no special soil amendments. So I figured my neglect was probably the cause of these dead-on-arrival buds.

But after a bit of research, I've found that there could be some other reasons why my daffs suffered this fate. According to the American Daffodil Society, while lack of feeding may be to blame, other possibilities are not enough sun (they need at least a half-day of sun to set a bloom), unusual weather (heat waves or excessive rain) the previous spring when the bulb would have been forming the next flower, or a need to divide the bulbs if they've been in the same place for more than a few years. There are other possible causes having to do with planting or even viruses, but they don't seem to apply to my particular bulb problem.

So here's my plan for beating bulb blast next year:
  1. I'm applying a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus and potassium fertilizer now, while the bulb is getting ready to produce the bloom for next year. (The ADS recommends a 5-10-10 fertilizer.)
  2. I'm leaving the leaves and stems in place until they die back naturally. I usually tie them into bundles with string or rafia to keep them tidier and to keep me from yanking them out when I'm weeding.
  3. After the greens have died back completely I'm going to dig up ALL the bulbs and check them for signs of disease or decomp. Any mushy bulbs will get tossed. I'll divide the bulbs as needed and store them until the fall somewhere cool and dry. (I keep those plastic mesh bags that onions and other vegetables are sometimes sold in in the stores for just this purpose. They keep the bulbs together but still allow air circulation around them.)
  4. In the fall, I'll replant the bulbs in a different part of my garden where they're going to get better sun exposure. The bed that I had them in is now more shaded by a growing tree than it used to be. I'll feed them again at the time of planting.
With any luck, next year I'll be rewarded with the full range of daffodil blooms I've enjoyed in the past.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of the Tiny Door in the Elm Tree in Golden Gate Park

I posted last week about the news reports of a tiny door that a mysterious stranger (elves are assumed but I'm not sure fairies and gnomes can be ruled out) had added to one of the elm trees in Golden Gate Park. But it appears the story is still unfolding. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, workers of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department saw the door and felt that it violated park policy that prohibits bolting anything to trees, so they removed the door. There was a public outcry. (Of course there was--this is San Francisco!) Workers then re-attached the door to the tree, but Rec and Parks says that this is only temporary and the door will eventually be removed permanently. Apparently, Rec and Parks is waiting for the elves to relocate to someplace that does not violate their policies. Stay tuned for inevitable further developments. As these are San Francisco elves, I do not expect them to go quietly.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Ed Rosenthal's Protect Your Garden: Eco-friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants (Book Review)

It's nice when things you can really use just show up in your mailbox. That was how I felt when I opened up the review copy of the new book Protect Your Garden by Ed Rosenthal, perhaps the best guide I've come across to identifying and dealing with pests, diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and environmental stresses--in other words, all the nasty things that can happen in your garden.

You may know Rosenthal as the leading expert on the cultivation of marijuana. (Don't worry--I won't judge you.) Having written more than a dozen books on one of the greatest cash crops ever grown, Rosenthal is perhaps used to thinking of  garden protection in more interesting terms, but in this book he chose to focus on protection from the kinds of everyday threats that any gardener can come up against: bugs, vermin, viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Protect Your Garden is loaded with full-color photos so it functions first of all as a terrific aid in identifying the problems you may discover. You'll find information on how common the pest or disease is, what kinds of plants it attacks, what kind of damage it does, and how to control or prevent it.

Following the sections on pests and diseases (which comprise about half the book), there are sections on nutrients and environmental stresses so you can diagnose and treat nutritional deficiencies or problems like salt injury, frost damage, or overwatering.

The last section outlines a wide range of eco-friendly and biological controls, filling in more details about how the controls work, how they should be used, and who makes them commercially available.

Protect Your Garden is the kind of book you never want to need, but you will. Seriously, you will. There are only a few books that I would say this about: It should be on every gardener's shelf.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Berry-Greens Smoothie Recipe

One of the things that I'm looking forward to making with the raspberries I'll be harvesting from the 'Raspberry Shortcake' plant I wrote about yesterday is smoothies. I love how easy smoothies are to make and what a good pick-me-up they are either first thing in the morning or for a late afternoon burst of energy. There are a lot of recipes out there now for green smoothies, which use spinach, kale or any other kind of leafy green to add more iron and other nutrients. Here's a concoction I've been playing around with that has a nice, bright flavor without a lot of ingredients.

Berry-Greens Smoothie

1 cup greens (spinach, kale, or other greens)
1 cup of frozen berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or strawberries , or a mix)
1/2 cup green tea, brewed and cooled to room temperature or colder
2 ice cubes
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
2 heaping tablespoons of nonfat greek yogurt

Put all ingredients in a blender and puree completely. Serve immediately. (1 serving)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Raspberries in Containers: You Can Grow That!

Photo credit: BrazelBerries

When gardeners think of growing berries in containers, they usually think first of strawberries growing in classic strawberry pots. I'm growing my strawberries that way this year, having lost my usual strawberry bed to the encroaching shade of a growing tree. But I want more berries! There have been some good blueberry varieties introduced in recent years that are bred for container gardening, such as 'Top Hat', 'Sunshine Blue', 'Patriot', 'Peach Sorbet', 'Jelly Bean', and 'Northsky'. But I was really excited to see BrazelBerries come out with a dwarf, thornless raspberry called 'Raspberry Shortcake', perfect for container growing.

You can, of course, grow other varieties of raspberries in containers but they require some kind of support structure for the canes. And unless you plant a thornless variety, you have to place the container somewhere out of the way so that you won't constantly be pricked by thorns as you walk by. 'Raspberry Shortcake' requires no trellising or other support and because it's thornless, it would work nicely on a sunny deck or patio, even in a high-traffic area.

'Raspberry Shortcake' is intended for zones 5-9, although I'll be growing it in my zone 10a garden and I expect it will do fine. It grows to a 2- to 3-foot mounded shrub and fruits on second-year canes in mid-summer. It needs full sun, well-draining soil, and moderate water. If you plant it now (early spring), give it a couple weeks to settle in and then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. When it fruits you may want to cover with a net or remay cloth to keep the birds from robbing you of your harvest. After the fruiting period is over, prune out the canes that had fruit, so the only canes left will fruit next year. More canes will appear next spring that will fruit the following year. It's self-pollinating, but it's true of most self-pollinating fruits that you tend to get a heavier yield if you have more than one plant.

'Raspberry Shortcake' may not be easy to find yet in your local nursery, but if you can't find it there you can order it directly from White Flower Farm. I was really happy to find one at the booth for Wegman's Nursery at the SF Flower & Garden Show last month. I still need to pot it up in and I better do it this weekend because it's already leafing out quite a bit. I can't wait to taste the first berries this summer!

You can also check out last month's You Can Grow That! post about Swiss chard.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Site for Your Greenhouse

I did a guest blog post at the website for Advance Greenhouses today. Check it out to determine what essential elements you need to consider when deciding where to put a greenhouse in your garden. Then nose around their website and dream about the really cool greenhouse you could find the perfect spot for in your yard. This is called "window shopping for gardeners."

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