An Alameda Garden: May 2013

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.

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