Behind the Makeover!

Extreme Gets Exposed!

Oh, enough with the sad attempts at cleverness.




"If [Thomas] Jefferson had dined only with those who'd been a force for good in the world, Jefferson would often have dined alone. If we insist only good and moral leaders talk to us, we'll wind up surrounded by silence. In fact, if we insist we talk only to those whose good deeds have matched their high aspirations, we won't always be on speaking terms with ourselves."

I'm not generally Peggy Noonan's biggest fan, but when she's right, she's right. RTWT.



"A garden is an artificial construct. It shares some aspects with wild nature, but sometimes the two are at odds with each other. We shouldn't be surprised when nature complains about being contradicted." --Pam Peirce.
Article about garden coaches, here.

Fine Gardening

The new issue (No. 118, Dec-07) has an interview with Napa County designer Brandon Tyson who, if the pictures of his work are any indication, is very good at what he does. The piece is titled Designing with Form & Texture. Sounds good! I'm all about form and texture.

Should I be disappointed when the interview sends mixed messages?

Consider the discussion of cuphea.
"Cupheas have a weak form but possess an extremely light, fine texture. They can set a receptive mood in which to stage more-assertive plants."

Okay, pair cuphea with assertive plants. I'm on board with that. But then there's this:
"Many of the sculptural plants that I love to use--beaked yucca, for example--have powerful forms, smooth textures, and subtle colors. [Sounds like an assertive plant!--ed.] If you combine them with another plant with the same qualities, the combination comes alive. Surround beaked yucca with cuphea--a lively plant that I see more as texture and color and less as form--and the yucca will steal the show."

But I thought we should use cuphea to set a receptive mood to stage assertive plants...?

Well, whatever. Design is an art, and you can't teach it like a science. Me, I am a scientist, and design can be a real challenge. I expect that, and I don't really mind. I enjoy tweaking my garden, and it's possible I enjoy the process more than the result. Well, that's me.

I have a cuphea on my roof deck. Cuphea turns out to be an excellent container plant for a hot, sunny roof in San Francisco. This one's looking a little piqued right now, but aren't we all? I had it with a fine-textured, hyper-flowery white angelonia and dusty lavendar agastage--it was horrible. Today, I took those out and added passalong orange-flowering aloe and passalong orange-flowering Cotyledon orbiculatum v. longifolium.


I happen to really like orange.

The neighbor, S

Although I haven't posted about it since I started, work in my neighbor S's garden is ongoing.


Since that inaugural post, I've probably worked ten hours.


Mostly culling deadwood.


Not enough to make visible headway.


I can't even say we've turned a corner yet.


But soon.


In exchange for today's haul...


I was sent home with a wild mushroom lasagna, roasted chicken, baked potatoes, and chocolate cake.


I enjoy listening to Fred's conversations while I work. Of course, he doesn't want to go on record. Maybe next time.

Indian summer

It's hot.


(You will note this picture was taken in shade.)

The Echium wilts daily...


And perks up when the sun goes down.


Indian summer is one of the few reliable seasonal features of the San Francisco Bay Area. While shorter days mean cooler temperatures for the rest of the country, things start heating up here in coastal California this time of year.

Cold, moist ocean air gets pulled in from the Pacific all summer long when hot air in the Central Valley rises. That convection gets shut off when the Valley air stops rising as the days get shorter. But there's still plenty of sunshine during the day. At night, it's cold.

Perfect time to put out last year's amaryllis bulbs, which I did a couple weeks ago.



Planet Earth


Are you watching (did you watch) the BBC documentary series Planet Earth? If not, you should put it in your queue.


Penny makes a strong endorsement.

Southern Bulb Blog visits Los Angeles. Lots of pictures.




Some garden notes.

A light rain fell yesterday and today! California's second spring.

The bamboo shoots grow so fast. I wish I could remember which species we bought. I know the genus name for one was Bambusa, but I'm not sure if that's the tall one or the short one. Oh, well.


A few more Cosmos getting in under the wire.


Morning glory seeds coming up everywhere. Yikes!


Carrots and radishes too. I'd really like it if the carrots self-sowed in the garden.


One tomato plant is still producing.


The runner beans not so much.



In bud:



Keckiella cordifolia.


It's a small plant now--there it is under the yarrow.


Epilobium canum. Cuttings from my guru's garden.


No more flowers on the snowberry...


But big berries.


New leaves budding out on Arctostaphylos pajaroensis 'Lester Rountree'.


Behind/underneath, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens. New plants. I'm hoping for bigger, pinker, fluffier flower heads next year.


Madia elegans not even close to slowing down. You can see it back there.


Something's eating the Fuchsia. No biggee.


I really love this mimulus.


I think we still have a few weeks of hot coming up, so too early to plant most of the bulbs. But I planted the quamash.


I took a cue from the last issue of Fine Gardening and bought a bulb auger. So much better than digging them in with a trowel.

Look at this freak-o bulb.


It's Fritillaria biflora. Most native bulbs don't want any summer water, so I'll wait a few more weeks to plant the rest. This batch came from Telos. I bought one Fritillaria, they sent me two. I bought three Camassia, they sent me four. Nice people!

I potted up some cineraria volunteers I found in the garden. Maybe I'll plant these in S's garden.


And I dug up my little clump of Sisyrinchium californicum and divided it.


I guess that little white spot on the right is scale.


"On the world's list of weird foods, ortolan — a bite-size songbird roasted and gulped down whole — can claim a place of distinction."


I remember reading about this before there was an Internet. I'm just as horrified today as I was then.


"Native Treasures: Gardening with the Plants of California"

This is Part 1 of 2. I'll add Part 2 tonight or tomorrow.

I attended this month's meeting of the California Horticultural Society last night to hear nurseryman Nevin Smith talk about gardening with California native plants.

Mr. Smith grew up in Sonoma County, California, working at his father's nursery. He earned a graduate degree in political science at Johns Hopkins University thinking he wouldn't enter the nursery trade, however that turned out not to be the case. He later started his own company named Wintergreen which he sold to the wholesale operation Suncrest and he's worked there ever since.

Suncrest is a key wholesale provider of retail nursery plants to all of California, well regarded for offerring quality material suitable for mediterranean climate gardens. Probably half the 1-gallon cans I've taken home from my local retail nursery had Suncrest labels, and I know the San Francisco Botanical Garden augments its plant sale inventory with an annual trip to Suncrest. I know because I had the good fortune of tagging along on last year's shopping spree. I was physically exhausted after visiting Suncrest's enormous, sprawling facility.

By now, even beginning native gardeners have ready access to a familiar palette of garden-friendly choices: ceanothus, manzanitas, salvias, currants, redbud, mimulus, lupine, buckwheat, erigeron, et cetera. All these plants are discussed at length in several recent books. However this talk emphasized species not commonly found in gardens many of which Mr. Smith is still working on developing for the market. After a brief introduction, he launched into a discussion of native trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials.

On the subject of trees, Mr. Smith seemed desolate. He said, by and large, people are not planting trees or even large shrubs in their gardens anymore. The emphasis now is on perennials and flowers. I cannot imagine enjoying a garden without some large plants for very long. Especially in a tiny garden like mine, it's absolutely necessary to have some vertical interest. To that end, in my garden, I picked the first tree Mr. Smith discussed, our native buckeye Aesculus californica (well, he went through a list in alphabetical order!). He described an especially shrubby selection of buckeye he made from Goat Mountain where the trees averaged only 6-10 feet in height. I'm planning to keep mine somewhere around 12 feet. A. californica is apparently quite amenable to that.

People are very reluctant to plant this tree now because it hosts Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus associated with Sudden Oak Death. Well, there aren't any oaks anywhere near my house. Also, I'm tired of this Sudden Oak Death hysteria. I've lately heard some authorities say Sudden Oak Death has not exactly lived up to its billing. California oaks are still in trouble, yes, but other problems may be more urgent than Phytophtora. And many of the exotics are susceptible to Phytophthohra too. So it goes.

He suggested several other species that straddle the tree/shrub size regime. Cupressus macnabiana is a garden-worthy cypress with excellent fragrance, but noone plants cypress anymore, and the only native cypress people are interested in having is the famous Monterey cypress (that's Cupressus macrocarpa--the first picture in this post), which is ill-suited to most garden environments. I can't say I blame people for not being enthusiastic about cypress in the garden, or wanting to have the most inappropriate cypress of all. Although, we did have a sample of this C. macnabiana for sale at the Botanical Garden recently and it smelled wonderful and I was sorely tempted. Someone bought it before I could tho'.

Other native shrubby trees he mentioned include Betula occidentalis, Fraxinus dipetala, and Cercis occidentalis. I guess I didn't realize Fraxinus dipetala (Flowering Ash) remained relatively small for its whole life. Maybe one day I'll get tired of having a summer-dormant buckeye in the garden and get Flowering Ash instead. He discussed a Cercis collected on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada that turns scarlet in the fall, instead of the usual yellow--even when its grown at the coast, where fall color is generally not impressive. (Sidenote: my ecology teacher recently mentioned Cercis flowers are edible and taste good! I had no idea. Now I have a reason to live through winter.)

Also mentioned in the talk: Arbutus menziesii (challenging in any garden), Populus tremuloides (excellent selections currently in development), Quercus garryana var. breweri (very variable, can be anywhere between prostrate mat to tree-form)

Moving on to shrubs, he discussed the difficulty of bringing several plants into commercial production. Arctostaphylos nevadensis (collected at Black Butte) might one day be an alternative to A. uva-ursi, but current selections are hard to maintain.

Artemisia tridentata v. vaseyana is a more compact and manageable wormwood than the widely available A. californica, and it deserves more exposure.

Very drought tolerant Cercocarpus betuloides is a plant "we will have to see more of" in ornamental landscapes of the future due to anticipated water shortages in California. I'm on board with that. See it in the second, third and fourth pictures, here.

Chamaebatiaria millefolium is native east of the Sierra all the way to Colorado. Its toughness and incense-like fragrance recommends it for gardens west of the Sierra as well. Apparently it's much used around Denver. Chrysothamnus nauseosus is a much overlooked desert plant much loved by butterflies. The best toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) come from Lake Berryessa. He sees toyons used a lot in commercial landscapes, but not enough in the garden. He said his popular Malacothamnus fasciculatus 'Casitas' came from an illegal collection (cuttings) made "a long time ago".

Other shrubs discussed: Ceanothus oliganthus var. sorediatus, Eriogonum parvifolium , Eriogonum umbellatum var covillei, Holodiscus microphyllus, Lupinus albifrons, Philadelphus lewisii 'Covelo'.

He says many common garden Ceanothus have C. oliganthus in their lineage. Eriogonum parvifolium is available in many native plant nurseries. He described it as a tidy mound, but mine ranged and trailed. Seeds are available from Theodore Payne in my links. My notes don't describe why he thought that species of Holodiscus merited special attention over the common Holodiscus discolor, and the specimen in the slide he showed didn't look very good either, so I have no comment. Lupinus albifrons is the Silver Bush Lupine I've mentioned before (so has Amy Stewart). Flowers and fragrance can vary dramatically from specimen to specimen. Mine smells like grape soda and I couldn't be happier.

In Part 2: Vines, perennials, and sub-shrubs. And I'll talk about how I absolutely loved the Cal Hort meeting itself.


Ten things to remember from the seed saving class I took at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

As taught by Don Mahoney, Ph.D., Curator.

Unfortunately, I cannot find my notes anywhere! So this is from memory. Maybe my BFF Kirsten will help me recollect some other interesting details.

1. To grow wild roses from seed, collect the hip before it turns red and sow immediately.

2. Genetic damage from inbred plants shows up in seeds from successive generations, not in seeds collected from the first isolated parent(s). This is one of those things that I find intellectually obvious, but not intuitively obvious. It means that you may grow vigorous plants from seeds collected from an isolated parent (grown from healthy parents) over and over again, but successive generations of offspring from these same vigorous plants will produce weaker and weaker seed.

3. Ethical seed collection. Get permits to collect on public land, and permission to collect on private land. Get permits from the USDA to import or export plant plant material to/from the USA, here. Take no more than 10% of the seed from any plant, or any plant population. Permits to collect can be hard to get. While there is legislation requiring you to have them, there is no mechanism in place for issuing them.

4. Collecting a few seeds from many plants is better than collecting many seeds from one plant.

5. Whenever possible, let seeds clean themselves.
Step #1) Take whole dead or nearly dead inflorescence (or what have you).
Step #2) Put in a paper bag, flowers pointed down.
Step #3) Wait.
Step #4) Collect loose seeds at the bottom of the bag.

6. A subscription to Rock Garden Quarterly is apparently a must for horticulture sophisticates. The Summer 2007 issue has some of the best writing about seed collecting Dr. Mahoney has ever seen.

Note: He also extolled the Deno book (link and link), but did not discuss Deno's passion for giberellic acid (link).

7. He joked about botanists' talent for distinguishing every teensy, tiny, minute micro detail, and why doing so makes perfect sense to botanists (so they can communicate clearly with one another).


No need for amateurs to exert themselves with all the fine distinctions. There are four basic seed vessels to remember: pods, capsules....nuts and berries? (Kirsten, help me out!)

8. Environmental Impact Reports do not typically take account of seed banked in soil. This is a serious flaw from a botanical-ecological perspective since large amounts of viable, quiescent native seeds may reside in a given volume of undisturbed soil. (An anecdote was shared about a forest fire in a redwood grove that yielded a vigorous, valley-wide stand of Ceanothus where no one could recall having seen a Ceanothus before. Within five years, the stump-sprouting redwood trees had shaded out the Ceanothus.)

9. The big thing for the last few years is using smoke to germinate seeds from fire-adapted ecosystems like South Africa and California. The active ingredient is nitric oxide and artificial smokes containing nitric oxide are now available (from two places I won't remember until I find my notes). Smoke is absolutely essential for germinating restio seeds and these artificial smokes will do the trick. (Nearly all grass-like plants fit in to one of four categores: carexes, sedges, rushes, and restios; you could add bamboos and make it five.)

10. Don't lose your notes.


Gunnera tinctoria in front.

Strybing, 8:30 a.m. 15-Sep-07; Part I


















Arbutus canariensis (above and below).





Link to Part 2.