Thursday, December 31, 2009
I don't remember having that kind of experience again until yesterday when I visited the Golden Gate Express Garden Railway at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. This second annual exhibit, created with the help of the Bay Area Garden Railway Society, transforms a collection of plants and a motley assortment of recycled materials into a miniature version of the city of San Francisco, complete with a four-car train and a cable car, each running on its own track.
Every iconic structure in San Francisco is there, from the Golden Gate Bridge with moving cars, to the Transamerica Pyramid and Lombard Street. The Ferry Building, constructed of corks and cutlery, is front and center. A row of colorful Victorian homes made of cereal boxes lines a hill, and mah-jong tiles and motherboards re-create Chinatown's Dragon-Crest Gate.
But this is a micro-world to experience, not just look at. Lights flash, bells clang, the ball-park crowd cheers. And twice a day, at 11:15 and 4:15, the ultimate San Francisco phenomenon occurs--the fog rolls in.
I try to imagine the attention to detail that garden railway devotees must invest in the creation and maintenance of little worlds like this. Beyond the tracks and the structures, every rock and plant is hand-picked and placed just so. Sound effects are recorded. Lights are programmed and timed. If regular gardening requires continual patience, what must a garden railway demand of its creator?
I doubt I'll ever know firsthand; I don't see a garden railway springing up in my own back yard any time soon. But for a little while yesterday I got to enjoy the magic and the wonder and remember that the smallest details that we bend to observe are the ones that can transport us the farthest.
The Second Annual Golden Gate Express Garden Railway exhibit at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park runs through April 18, 2010. The Conservatory is closed on New Year's Day, but otherwise open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:oo a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last entry at 4:30). Click here for details.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I appreciate that some seed companies are run on shoestring budgets, but I’m not sure that absolves them of the responsibility to provide adequate information about their products. And for the bigger companies, there’s really no excuse. I don’t know if there’s any way to gather this data, but I have to wonder how much money gardeners waste each year buying seeds that they prepare or plant incorrectly due to lack of information on the package.
So in an open plea to seed companies everywhere, here is a list of the essential elements I often find missing on seed packets:
- A photo. Yes, the botanical drawings are lovely and quaint, but I want a little more reality. And to be honest, I don’t want just one photo, I want two—a close-up of the flower or fruit, as well as a photo of the plant in situ. I’d settle for that second photo to be available on the company’s website, but the more you can show me right on the package, the more likely it is that I’ll be tossing that pack into my shopping basket.
- The full botanical name. Yes, Latin can be scary, but it helps. Really, it does.
- Germination requirements. It’s not enough to just state the planting depth and width and when to plant. If seeds require filing, nicking, soaking or chilling in order to germinate and that information isn’t on the packet, you’re inviting people to waste their time and money with your product. Let’s not do that.
- Harvesting information. I’d be more willing to try new and unfamiliar varieties if the seed companies would give me even the slightest clue when and how to harvest. It isn’t always obvious. What will the fruit or vegetable look or feel like when ripe? Can I expect multiple harvests from one plant? Come on, just a hint...
- "Best Used By" date. Every reputable seed company stamps their packets with a "Packaged for 20--" date. But it would be great if they’d also add a "Best Used By 20--" date to tell me that those 2009 lettuce seeds won’t last beyond 2011, but the 2009 tomatoes could be good until at least 2013.
It’s true that you can often find all this information on the Internet if you go searching for it, but not always, particularly for rare varieties. Call me silly, but I think it should be right there on the package. And who knows this information better than the people who are selling these seeds?
So what company comes closest to achieving excellence in seed packaging? Without a doubt, it’s Renee’s Garden. They don’t usually include the botanical name and they use illustrations rather than photos (although their website includes plant photos), but their packs are well-written and informative, so much so that they even add an extra flap to contain the additional details. They often include general notes of interest about the plant as well as tips for using or cooking the harvest. Their 2009 seed packs include a “Sell By” date in addition to the “Packed For” date—useful for the retailer, not so much for the gardener. Still, the amount of information they provide on their seed packs far exceeds that of any other company I’ve seen.
I understand that Baker Creek is in the process of upgrading their seed packs, going from generic packages to variety-specific packs with photos and more details, to which I say “Amen.” Let’s hope that other seed companies will be following suit.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
What’s a gardener to do in these damp, drippy days when you actually have a bit of free time to garden but the weather is not cooperating? It’s a time for planning next year’s garden, and that means seeds. And now, thanks to Baker Creek Seeds’ opening of their Petaluma Seed Bank, it means road trip!
It’s a 45-minute drive up Highway 101 to
Filling an old corner bank building in the quaint downtown area, the Baker Creek Seed Bank is a new experience in seed shopping. Racks and racks of seed packets run the length of the old bank. When I was there earlier this week, manager Paul Wallace and his staff were busy replacing all of the 2009 packs with the new 2010 packs, assuring the freshest seeds possible. And of course, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill seeds, but rare varieties, many of which you won’t find anywhere else. The number of tomato varieties alone is a little overwhelming.
And therein may be the problem. The selection is far greater than any I’ve seen in a nursery or garden store and I wasn’t there too long before brain lock started to set in. I suggest getting a catalog to peruse before going, but you can also pick up a copy at the Seed Bank and relax at a table there while you flip through pages and make your shopping list.
In addition to the staggering selection of seeds, the Seed Bank carries gardening and urban farming books that you're not likely to find at your local bookstore. They know their clientele and don't bother with the Sunset magazine-style garden porn. These are books for people with dirt under their nails. But that's OK, because on the other side of the store you'll find shelves of home-made soaps, along with beeswax candles, honeys, and herb products. But particularly appealing was the line of Clarington Forge garden tools from
In the end, I left with only five packs of seeds, just enough to get my 2010 garden plans cooking. But I suspect I’ll be making the drive back to
The Baker Creek Seed Bank is located at
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
One of the most interesting parts of the story, however, is this:
"If you planted a seedling there now, I doubt very much whether it would grow," said plant scientist Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra of UC Davis, lead author of the paper by UC Davis and UC Riverside scientists."
In other words, while this plant would certainly meet the criteria of just about any definition of a "native," if it were being planted in the exact same spot today, it would probably not survive. Hopefully, this will give native-plant purists a moment of pause. The whole native plant issue is just not that cut and dry. (I hate to say I told you so, but...)
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
- Encinal Nursery: In addition to the usual plant selection, Encinal Nursery is well-stocked with Christmas trees (including living trees in pots), wreaths, garlands and other greenery. They also have bulbs still in stock, ivy topiaries, and some nice bonsai plants.
- Thomsen's Garden Center: You'll always find a great plant selection here, but they also carry lots of great garden ornaments and pots. They still have some bulbs in stock as well as seed potatoes (something not many of the local nurseries seem to carry). While you're there, stop upstairs at Vines cafe and gift shop, where you'll find great gift-y things and excellent lattes.
- Ploughshares Nursery: In addition to knowing that you're supporting a great nursery that helps train and put people back to work, Ploughshares is a good place to find California natives. Right now they also have a large selection of fruit trees and citrus trees from Four Winds (talk about a gift that keeps on giving!), as well as lots of plants on sale for 50-75% off. Note: Ploughshares is open this weekend and probably only half a day on Wednesday before the holidays, so shop early!)
- Japan Woodworker: Shop here if you want to find the kind of gardening tools that make gardeners drool. They have amazing gardening tools from Japan at reasonable prices. You'll find everything you'd need for aesthetic pruning, or just some cool gear that will make you feel like you know what you're doing.
- Pagano's Hardware: This is the place to find the more pedestrian but nevertheless essential garden tools, some garden ornaments, and fertilizers. A gift card for Pagano's would bring a smile to any gardener's face.
- Books Inc.: Although there isn't an extensive selection of garden books at this otherwise terrific bookstore, they do carry some titles specifically related to gardening in the Bay Area and Northern California. Definitely worth a look.
- Wilmott's Books: This used bookstore is the real deal and they stock a good variety of gardening books, from the practical to the literary. Stop by for a good browse.
- Urban Forest: Follow the stream of bubbles into this little shop on Park Street to find a wide array of wind chimes, as well as some very cool fountains and garden ornaments.
- See's Candies: This one's self-explanatory.
Thanks to everyone who entered!
Update 12/17: I didn't hear back from Rachel, so I randomly drew another name. The new winner is greenTXmom. I've sent an e-mail asking for her mailing address. Hopefully, I'll hear back soon!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
And here's the second bit of good news. The prices are fantastic. An advance puchased adult ticket gives you entrance to all five days of the show for only $16. I can't recall exactly what prices were this past year, but this seems like a steal. Because the show is now in San Mateo, an entrance ticket that's good for all five days gives me that much more incentive to keep going back.
Check out the show's web site, where they've already posted the schedule of seminars. This show is shaping up to be something really promising.
Monday, December 07, 2009
To enter, just leave a comment on this post with your name and e-mail address. You can enter multiple times, but only one entry per day. I'll hold the random drawing next Monday morning (Dec. 14) and post the winner. I will ship the product to arrive by Christmas time. (Sorry, I can only ship within the United States.)
Update 12/14: This giveaway is now officially closed to additional entries. I will post the winner of the random drawing later tonight.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
I'm not so sure I see any "green shoots" in the economy like Ben Bernanke claims to see, but one of the rewards of autumn weeding is uncovering the green shoots of spring-flowering bulbs.
So far I've exposed the first tender tips of the hyacinths as well as countless slender spikes of freesias and dutch and german irises. I never have one of those moments of discovering bulb shoots buried among the weeds when I don't relive that scene from The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) when Mary experiences her own gardener's epiphany. It's always wondrous, and a fitting reward for pulling weeds on a cold, damp day.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The calendars are $14 (including shipping) and must be ordered online by Monday, November 30. Calendars will be shipped to arrive by the holidays. Click here for more information and order form.
Friday, September 04, 2009
I really began to pay attention to this tree a couple years ago when I was taking an arboriculture class and had to do a tree report. For convenience sake, I did the report on this tree and believe me, there was plenty to report on. Poor branch structure, included bark, some old damage to the trunk (probably from a car clipping it), and to be brutally frank, just a general state of ugliness. The pictures here are from that report I did in late 2006. Time has not improved the situation. If anything, it's worse because there are now a couple obviously dead branches.
It'll be interesting to see how the city decides to handle this problem. I realize budgets are beyond tight and removing the tree and replacing it may not be affordable. But I would so love to see this thing gone and some tree with real potential put in its place. The city has recently updated its master tree plan and when I checked it, I found the report made the following recommendations for new/replacement tree plantings on my street:
- Silver linden
- Various American and hybrid elms
- New Zealand Christmas tree
- Chinese pistache 'Keith Davey'
- Scarlet oak
But I shouldn't get my hopes up. If the city decides that removal isn't a priority or in the budget, then the world's ugliest tree and I may still have a long future together.
Monday, August 10, 2009
The reasons it looks like shit are not uncommon and fall into three categories of varying degrees of severity at various times: 1) lack of time and energy for proper maintenance, 2) lack of money for supplies and more plants, and 3) aphids and their evil partners in crime, ants.
The time and money issues are, I think, slowly working themselves out. And in the past few days, I've decided to throw my budget to the wind, accept the fact that I'll never get caught up on my own, and hire some one-time help to clear weeds in the front yard and prune a neglected and overgrown camellia at the side of my house. I feel a bit better having made that decision, and will, I'm sure, feel much better when it's finally done.
The aphid problem on the other hand is a tougher fix. My plan earlier in the year to do absolutely nothing about the aphid problem in the hopes that the beneficial insects would really go on the attack resulted in my cherry tree being decimated, my plum being later hit so hard that it looks like it has peach curl, and several other plants getting the life slowly sucked out of them. The ladybugs have shown up and in greater numbers than I've seen here before, but clearly they're not up to the task. I'm still refusing to spray chemicals, although I have tried a few home remedy mixes that don't seem to have done much. I'm also hitting the plants with jets of water, which I honestly think just provides the aphids with a temporary Slip'N'Slide more than it kills or discourages them.
And their good buddies, the ants, are everywhere! Alameda's sandy soil must be ant heaven for them--fast draining and oh so easy to tunnel through. I finally realized that I'd never get the aphids under control without controlling the ants, so I've put Grants ant stakes all over the place. It seems to have decreased their numbers slightly, but I know this is an ongoing battle.
All this being said, there have been a few high spots in the garden this year, for which I am grateful. It's been the best year for roses that I've had so far, possibly because I finally have them situated in the best spots in the garden. The salvias (Mexican Limelights, Hot Lips, and Argentine Skies), bless them, have bloomed like mad and (with the exception of the aggressively sharp elbows of the Mexican Limelights) been maintenance-free. The kangaroo paw I put in last year has bloomed non-stop most of the year as well. The Bright Lights swiss chard has added a lot of color and produced enough greens to fortify at least a squadron, if not an army. And the green beans (Roma and haricot vert) have been delicious (in spite of the feeble bamboo teepees I built them).
So my goal now is to do what one should always do when depressed:
- Take a breath. It's probably not as bad as I think it is.
- Get some professional help. No gardener is an island (even if my garden's on an island) and there's no reason why I have to go it alone.
- Face my enemies head-on with the proper defenses. I'm off to buy a bottle of Neem this afternoon.
- Count my blessings. At least I have a garden to be depressed about!
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
CHERI: Movie Trailer - Click here for another funny movie.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Ever wondered why those little black seeds you've planted never sprout? (Tip: Most black seeds require some form of scarification.) Or how you can successfully root cuttings from your grandmother's favorite rose bush? Or how to cross-pollinate two flowers to breed an entirely new variety? Plant propagation doesn't have to be so mysterious--you can get these questions and a lot more answered in the Advanced Propagation class at Merritt College in Oakland.
Like so many other places, Merritt College is having massive budget cuts and this class is in danger of being cut from the Fall schedule if at least 25 people don't enroll by Wednesday (6/10). This 2-unit class requires no text, has no tests, and costs just $40. What it does offer is lots of hands-on lab experience with a wide variety of propagation techniques, the opportunity to try your own propagation experiments with some guidance and supervision and a greenhouse, and many informative field trips to propagation nurseries around the bay area for a behind-the-scenes look. The instructor, Susan Ashley, is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I took this course a few semesters ago and learned so much that I've been able to try out in my own garden. And it was really fun.
Click here to start the registration process. The class is LH52 and the is 44469 lecture, 44470 lab. Classes are on Tuesdays from 1-5 pm starting on Aug. 25. If you have more questions, you can contact Susan at susanwashley at gmail dot com.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Photo: Yucca whippleii (Our Lord's Candle)
Photo Credit: Pete Veilleux/East Bay Wilds
Monday, May 18, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
And this morning while reading the SF Chron online, I learned about another horticultural two-fer: fava beans. Not only are they great for the soil because they put nitrogen back into it, but it turns out you can eat both the beans and the greens. In fact, the greens are turning out to be one of the latest culinary trends in Bay Area restaurants. Move over, arugula!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I hate to hear about things like this because these are the kind of proposals that become self-defeating in the end. You take a venue that everyone can enjoy and appreciate because it's free and impose an entrance fee. Only then, there are many people who will never set foot in it again. Then it becomes a sort of "rarefied" spot, the kind of place that people think isn't really meant for the masses. Which is, of course, exactly what an urban garden should be.
I know a $5 fee doesn't sound like much, and these are exceptionally hard times, but it still sounds like a bad idea to me. Couldn't the city impose other, more worthwhile fees instead? Like for gun registrations, for example? Here's a bumper sticker I'd like to see: "Use a gun, fund an orchid."
Saturday, March 21, 2009
And for those of you who didn't win, don't forget that you can get 10% off your entire purchase of Ethel Gloves when you place your order from their website and use the discount code ALAMEDA. I think you'll really be pleased with these gloves!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
I'm happy to report that the gloves are still going strong and they remain my favorite gloves to garden in. After eight months there are no tears or holes, no shrinkage in spite of several machine washings, and except for a few small sap stains, they clean up well.
It's good when a product lives up to one's initial impressions and it's also good to be able to try out a product for free. And one lucky reader will get the chance to do just that. The folks at Ethel Gloves will give away one pair of gloves (winner's choice of style and size) to a reader of An Alameda Garden. Just post a comment to this post. Your comment can be about anything garden- or garden blog-related. Be sure to include an e-mail address. The contest will remain open until next Friday, March 20--coincidentally, the first day of spring. At noon on Friday I'll randomly choose one winner from all the commenters and, once the winner has provided a mailing address, the folks at Ethel Gloves will ship out the new gloves.
And, just in case you can't wait for the end of the contest or aren't feeling particularly lucky, you can order gloves directly from the Ethel Gloves website and get a 10% discount as a reader of An Alameda Garden. Just enter the discount code ALAMEDA and you'll get 10% off your entire order. I think they'd make a perfect gift for Easter or Mother's Day! This discount offer is good until Friday, April 3.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Check out this video report from the NY Times on a woman who left the rat race behind to farm in upstate New York. Yes, it's a more extreme (and more rural) life than I would want to live, but I still find it fascinating and inspiring. At a time when most of us seem to be revising our lifestyles, examining the choices that others have made can really open up the range of possibilities.The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
Sunday, March 01, 2009
The forecast is for rain and more rain throughout the next ten days at least. And still they say we are in a drought and can look forward to more water rationing this year. You'd never know there's a drought by looking at my garden. The weeds are positively thriving!
Oh, and check back here soon--I expect to have another giveaway happening in a week or so. Details to come.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The package announced Renee's new seed varieties for 2009, including a couple of beautiful new sweet peas ("Zinfandel" and "Painted Lady"), a honey-scented alyssum ("Summer Peaches"), and two lettuce mixes ("Asian Baby Leaf" and "Ruby & Emerald Duet"). There's more--those were just what caught my eye at first glance. And to entice me further the package contained a complementary pack of the Asian Baby Leaf seed mix.
Renee's Garden is my favorite seed company. Their seeds are reliable germinators and they provide so much more information on their seed packets than most other seed companies. One thing in particular that I love is that they actually provide detailed information about how to harvest--exactly when to cut, how much to cut, and how to get a second growth. Sometimes they even provide information about how to cook the veggies. And if you're not a fan of their pretty seed packet illustrations, you can always go their web site to check out the real-life photos of each variety.
So with my new packet of Renee's Garden seeds in hand, I stumbled bleary-eyed out to the garden today, freshened up a couple of containers with an addition of new compost, and sprinkled Asian Baby Leaf seed mix over the top. Come early spring, these will make easy salad pickings right outside my back door. And while I was at it, I also planted another container with some of the sweet pea seeds from my last year's crop.
It wasn't much of a dent in all the gardening that needs to be done, and I'm not sure the funk I've been in is entirely lifted. But I defy anyone to plant seeds without feeling just a little bit better.
Monday, January 05, 2009
I'm all for scientific research, but this seems like another one of those cases where a study was done to prove something that should be fairly obvious. Anyone who's ever raked a lawn, dug holes for planting, or pulled a significant amount of weeds can tell you that of course regular gardening activities are equivalent to a workout. While not every activity will get your heart rate up enough to count as a cardio activity, some, such as vigorous raking, will. Add to that the bending and reaching that comes with pruning, planting, and weeding, and you've got a pretty good all-over routine.
For those who need quantifiable proof of things, I hope this study, published in HortTechnology, will put the issue to rest. But honestly, I think it could have been settled just as conclusively by picking up a shovel.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
So as I was thinking about new year's resolutions and goals for 2009, it occurred to me that the best resolution I could make is to find the fun again--to make a point of enjoying my time in the garden and blogging about it. 2008 was for me personally and perhaps for the world at large somewhat of a soul-sucking experience. I'm ready for a fresh start and more than ready for some fun.
Happy new year and best wishes for my fellow gardeners, bloggers, and readers in 2009!