Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary Ann, I'm posting this one for you

This is what agastache (hummingbird mint) looks like in the curbstrip garden. The agastache is the tall, airy plant with peachy-pink flowers.
You can click on the photo to see a larger image.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Congratulations, newlyweds!

OK, it's off-topic but I saw this truck while leaving the Rutherford Grill after lunch on October 17. Kristen and Joyce were married in California on October 16, 2008 and graciously allowed this stranger to take photos to post here. They were on their "mini-moon" in the Napa Valley.

Please help guarantee equal protection under the law for all married couples. Vote NO on PROP 8 in California on November 4, 2008. The voter registration deadline is October 20.

[UPDATE: Californians voted by a narrow margin to amend the state constitution through Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage.]

Sunday, August 31, 2008

August garden dog days

Hollyhock "Creme de Cassis"
Red buckwheat & Snow-in-summer What a blooming cottage garden looks like when it's not blooming
Penstemon 'Hildalgo.' This thing is a skyscraper, as far as penstemons go, over 5 ft.

Hot, hot, hot and not much blooming. The cottage-y area of the garden is green with a few blooms here and there. The exceptions are catmint, Cleveland sage, agastache, hollyhocks, a few penstemons and the occasional rose. I'm preparing another moderately-sized planting bed next to the driveway for this fall and have been doing my pretend pre-ordering at High Country Gardens. You know the kind of orders, where you fill your online shopping cart and then can't quite bring yourself to the checkout page.
Becauses this is a realtime garden, here are a few photos of what a hot and tired garden looks like at the end of summer. If anything looks OK it's only because it's a closeup that excludes the surrounding blahs.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

San Miguel Island Buckwheat

The rich pink flowers in this photo are that of Eriogonum grande rubescens, or red buckwheat, planted in the curb strip I share with the neighbors, which is blasted in the baking sun all day. My plants came from Mostly Natives Nursery in Tomales Bay. Since their demonstration specimens were nothing short of splendid and this buckwheat is native to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, I made some assumptions and tried a little experiment by placing some plants in this sunny curb strip and some in my part-shade strip under a maple tree.
Here is what I learned.
This is one tough, beautiful and un-thirsty buckwheat, it does not appreciate shade and it's a generous bloomer. The spoon-shaped leaves are sturdy, a nice green and glaucous on the undersides with a slightly waxy feel, perfect for its native salty, windy coastal island where it is dry most of the growing season. However, my plants did just fine in Napa's uncharteristically hard freezes this past winter. They do prefer a lean soil but I have mine planted in a bed that's mostly clay amended with lots of organic matter. So far (just one growing season) they've done great. The mason bees, skippers and hairstreaks love the nectar. I even see the wasps going after it. When the seed heads dry later in the season there will be food for the neighborhood quail. I didn't bother taking a photo of the plants under the maple tree because they didn't perform nearly as well. Those will be replanted in full sun this fall in a roasting, dry-ish bed next to the driveway. It makes a good companion plant for yarrow, Cleveland sage (both of which grow on the Channel Islands) agastache and mullein. The photo was taken before it reached full bloom. It looks even better now, especially with the plants around it having filled in. The plant is full and not unattractive even when not in bloom.
You don't have to live on a windy island to enjoy this plant. My climate in Napa is decidedly Mediterranean, with dry summers and wet winters. Red buckwheat is a winner here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Smokey skies over Napa

Not a garden topic but here's what's happening in my neck of the woods. These aren't exciting photos but our usually crisp, bright hillsides are covered in this smokey haze.
The photos were taken from the Maxwell Bridge, the first looking due east, the second slightly north-east toward the fire (not visible in the photo). Photos taken with my cell phone, through the car window! Safe, huh?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I lust for chicken house

I was exiting the garden center in St. Helena recently and saw this. Be still my heart. I want. Beautiful, no? I have a new appreciation for the time, effort and cost of materials, because the next thing I saw was the sign in the window. Three grand, baby. I don't know the builder. Probably never will since I live just slightly within city limits, I'm concerned my neighbors would be offended and there is no way I can afford this chicken house. It's a handsome chicken house but what do you all think of the wire floor? Is that OK for chicken feet? I'm not that familiar with chicken culture so I have no idea.

The Boot Tree is in bloom - visual pun

My niece Kanishia was driving through Oregon, spotted this rare Boot Tree in bloom and stopped to snap a photo. There are other boot trees but I suspect this one is definitive. I'll let you know if the cuttings take.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Giving back to the community: Ann Trinca & Norma Quintana

Meet Ann Trinca and Norma Quintana, artists and community mobilizers. Together they have opened a wonderful space in Napa, The Nest, which is at once part livelihood and love-offering to the community. Their motto: Live creatively, give generously. The nest is combination art gallery, store and gathering space. Part of the the proceeds from store sales and events goes toward building the "Nest Egg" fund, which is distributed to artists through our local arts council.

Their latest project: a community garden. People in the community who donate a plant, seeds or gardening materials have been invited to share in the garden bounty and much of the produce will be donated to the Napa Food Bank. Check out Ann Trinca's May 17 blog post to see what one of the local big box stores did for them to help kick off the project. Check out the rest of her blog, too (one of my favorites). How cool is that mini-tire planter the kind man with power tools is assembling?

The Nest's main web site will tell you more about upcoming events at the gallery.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yummy Nasturtium 'Peach Melba'

Blooming furiously in a hot, dry corner.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wild Ass Idea - propagation mister

There are wild asses, you know, but I don't know what kind of ideas they have beyond I think I'll graze slightly to the left now.

So, I'm thinking, without any personal research to back it up, that maybe I could come up with a cheap way to mist cuttings. I have one of those cobra misters and I'm thinking of connecting it to a hose, connected to a faucet, connected to a solar or battery-powered timer. Why not? I have everything I need except the timer. I even have plastic sheeting should I choose to slap together a small mist house (which I probably won't but I could).

Report pending.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More May Bloom Day

Here's the recently planted curbstrip, not yet in full expression, that I share with my good neighbors who gave me free rein with my trowel. It will fill out more next growing season. You can just catch a glimpse of the flagstone and solar garden lights placed for their nighttime safety in and out of vehicles. I miscalculated on the flagstone and lights a bit. Umm, a lot, But it will help keep us from tripping at night.
Jupiter's beard/centranthus ruber, 'Moonshine' yarrow, wahlenbergia species 'Blue Cloud & 'May Night' salvia, plus more.
Waiting to bloom: caryopteris 'Dark Knight,' various agastache, elfin thyme, red Channel Islands buckwheat, epilobium/California fushia (not really a fushia) & Cleveland sage.

Leaning Tower of Delphinium, 'Graham Thomas' roses, with a slight peek of hollyhock 'Aunt Brownie Fig' in the next photo. The fig-leaf hollyhock, usually rust-resistant, had terrible rust this year. Lots of wailing and ripping of leaves ensued.

'Ladybird' poppies, two views, with 'Whirling Butterflies' gaura & anchusa capensis 'Blue Angel.'

Carex testacea 'Orange New Zealand Sedge,' which is far more intensely colored in person, very garden-worthy. At its feet are verbena 'Burgundy' and 'Mother of Thyme.'

'Apple Blossom' penstemon with 'Snow Hill' salvia in background.

Small's penstemon, with yellow native lupine.

List of bloomers



anchusa (both perennial & annual)

yarrow 'Moonwalker'

columbine, unnamed cultivar

salvia nemerosa 'May Night' & Snow Hill

autumn sage, red & peach

Roses: Iceberg, Tequila, Betty Prior, Sally Holmes, Graham Thomas, Lida/Leda, Brilliant Pink Iceberg, Burgundy Iceberg, Playboy

linaria 'Flamenco' & 'Red Velvet"

cream cups

California poppies

Ladybird poppies


stipa/Mexican feather grass



dianthus barbatus 'Sooty'

Baby Blue Eyes/gilia

tri-color gilia

Penstemon: Garnet, Apple Blossom, Small's, Husker's Red

Jupiter's Beard

scabiosa - three varieties

elderberry 'Black Lace'

vebena bonarensis

verbena 'Burgundy'

various pelargoniums


sweet peas (just barely)

Monday, May 5, 2008

What's blooming in the North Bay - May

Close-up of 'Tequila' rose.
Put on your sunglasses, here comes anagallis monellii, shockingly cobalt with pink center. It's a beauty.
This photo, not much bloom and the plants haven't filled in yet, but photo taken about a week ago. The hollyhock 'Aunt Brownie Fig' is now in bloom and you can see that the 'Black Lace' elderberry in the foreground starting to push. The elderberry will get bushier in subsequent seasons (planted last fall from a 4-inch pot).
Here you see anchusa (very intense cobalt blue), catmint, 'Tequila' rose, California poppies, yellow centaurea macrocephala (never again, ever)
Saponaria ocymoides in background, pentemon 'Garnet,' growing in the inferno strip under a trident maple. Love 'em.
Different view of catmint, etc.
Three kinds of pinks/dianthus, English lavender hybrid, yellow cream cups and blue annual anchusa near the field stone
Yet another view of catmint amongst everything, yawn.
Waaaay off in the middle of this bed you can see my first-year 'Betty Prior' rose (pink). Behind that, against the lattice is 'Sally Holmes.' Grow this rose, please. I abused mine in a container before finally putting it in the ground this past winter. She's a beauty and forgave me, producing huge clusters of large single flowers slightly blushed with peach. Still waiting for some of the later-bloomers to fill in.
Dianthus barbatus 'Sooty' in the foreground smells like chocolate. The white pom-pons are scabiosa 'Snow White' and the yellow spikey thing is a California native lupine.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mmmmmm, slugs are tasty

*Sigh.* Meet my hero, the humble California Towhee that scratches under my leaf litter and eats slugs and other superfluous invertebrates. After that I get to hear him splashing in the birdbath and off he flies. Daily ritual, all day long. Towhee, on behalf of my dahlias and seedlings I thank you. Mind you, this is not the actual bird. My guy was too busy to pose.
(photo credit Stephen Lea, taken in Berkeley, CA)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

'Margaret Long' falls off a log

That's about how easy it is to propagate. A couple of months ago I started off with one nasturtium 'Margaret Long' that I purchased from Annie's Annuals & Perennials in Richmond (I go to the nursery in person for the swoon factor) and now I have five baby plants, nicely rooted and one mama plant with the misshapen botanical equivalent of stretch marks. Wouldn't you sag like that if you'd given birth to quintuplets?

I did an online search first to see if the plant was under patent and could find nothing. 'Margaret Long' first appeared in an Irish garden as a sport of the double red nasturtium 'Hermine Grashof' back in the '70's, so the 20 year patent limit has come and gone. Neither of these nasturtiums set seed, so cuttings it is. I could not rationalize spending over sixty dollars for six easy-to-root plants. So Annie (who rocks the gardening world, by the way) got my first wad of dough and I am high on 'Margaret.'
My experience has been if you want to propagate nasturtiums from cuttings, just stick them into wet potting soil and you'll have roots enough to plant out in about two to three weeks.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Little Shop of Horrors - part 2

This is what the centaurea macrocephala shown in a previous post has turned into. It's big, it attracts aphids (which my jillions of ladybugs devour) and the brown bracts that form prior to the bloom look oddly like little dead artichokes. I'm curious to see if any of these buds will bloom simultaneously so that the plant looks less weird. I've already changed my mind about using it as a cut flower. If it doesn't evolve, off with its macrocephala. I'll post its progress.

Crop circles

So, I went trotting outside early morning a couple of days ago to admire the catmint and bask in the sound of buzzing bees (they're baaack) and found this, one of the plants completely flattened, with the stems radiating out from the crown: bizarre, symmetrical, very crop circle-ish. Initially there was no other evidence and I had not been abducted onto an alien medical spacecraft during the night. Maybe it was a defective catmint and could not hold the weight of its blooms? Nay. It was an alien, alright, who belongs to no-one and roams the neighborhood. Finally I saw the culprit slink away from under the 'Graham Thomas' rose (very thorny, he's safe there). He moved too fast for me to get a photo, therefore....

...I'll have to substitute a shot of Gino, so you can get an idea of the deceptive form these aliens take. They even sometimes ruthlessly send their young (not related to Gino)...
...which you see here on my niece Kanishia's shoulder making itself as appealing as possible to trick her into thinking he's a real cat. I see a future catmint flattener with some serious aaaahhhhh factor going on.
It's all OK, though, because the plant in question was Jeffy's favorite, so it must smell especially nice. There are many more catmints in the garden, standing tall and putting out bloom like there's no tomorrow.

(please spay and neuter pets)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Margaret's Rose

Rosa 'Tequila' - first of the the season, posted in memory of Margaret, who died yesterday.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saved from the shovel

Lobelia laxifolia, offsets obtained before the gardener at a local business dug it out of their perennial border. I had no idea what it was at the time but it was a splendid affair, growing fountain-like, lush, over five feet tall and smothered in the blossoms you see here. My little guy in the photo is only about 10 inches tall but I have great hopes based on parent plant.
(How about that lovely exposed irrigation pipe? I'm working on it, really I am.)

Waking up

The garden is starting to stretch and yawn a little and wake up slowly. It was stinkin' hot today and a few things wilted so I was out there in shorts and work boots with the hose. I have drip irrigation but the clock isn't working so my plan is to flush the system and make periodic water settings like all good farmers should.

A little bit of color is starting to push. My soil is rich and loamy so I have big poppy plants with few flowers.

Little shop of horrors! The photo is a tad fuzzy but the thing was lunging and snarling at me so I couldn't get a clear shot (Centaurea macrocephala). This is its third spring in the ground and it's the first year I'll get bloom. If you live in a rural or boggy area avoid this plant as it can be invasive. I plan to use this one for cut flowers so it will get whacked back before going to seed. By the way, this photo shows only a small portion of the plant; it's at least 3 feet wide, and covered with buds. Creepy, scary buds

The catmint started blooming a couple of days ago, but sadly very few honey bees are visiting, numbers perhaps reduced by colony collapse. I am, however, seeing carpenter, bumble, and orchard mason bees.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"The road to hell..." by way of glyphosate

It's controversial in gardening circles but I did it. I finally let the neighbor (while my nasty seeds floated into his yard) spray my weed patch with Roundup. Why I was so cowardly and resistant about this, I don't know. Maybe it's because of that pesky -cide suffix. Maybe because glyphosate is alleged to form environmental xenoestrogens. A friend told me that Roundup causes breast cancer, about which there is no definitive scientific proof (Scientific American - 1997). I've had breast cancer, and my illusions that taking impeccable care of myself will give me immunity to most catastrophic illnesses have already been shattered. And now I know that life is too short to be a slave to weeds. So what's a little chemotherapy and radiation burn, ya know? I don't plan to use herbicides indiscriminately but I wanted to get control over a tenacious area where previous efforts had failed. I did slink back home guiltily to Dr. Earth and he forgave me my indiscretion - this time. You can beat me up now, if you want. Steal my lunch money, too.
p.s. I did use some clove oil organic herbicide on a patch of dichondra and I have some grieving earthworm widows now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What's blooming in the North Bay




Nasturtium "Margaret Long" & phalanges "homo sapien"

Narcissus (of course), abutilon, freesias, dianthus, anchusa, iceberg roses (no joke, they bloomed all winter), dutch iris, pacific coast iris, lavender, california poppies, nasturtium 'Margaret Long,' saponaria, white scabiosa and I picked and ate my first alpine strawberries of the season about two weeks ago.

Here are photos of just a few (some kinda fuzzy - all taken with my camera phone).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How did you grow that? & other "mysteries" of gardening revealed

Here's what sometimes happens when you take a home grown, bedraggled bouquet into an office of kind-hearted hospice co-workers (disclaimer, I'm making this up).

Q: How did you grow these flowers? You must have a green thumb.
A: I dig a hole, stick something into it and wait. While I wait I dig more holes, stick in more somethings and wait some more. Occasionally I water the somethings. Sometimes I throw the rotted fecal matter of four-legged herbivores or flightless fowl around my yard. When the somethings are unattractive or overly buggy I rip them out, or ignore them and let them die of natural causes (read: neglect).

Q: May I come see your garden? It must be beautiful.
A: Ha! No. It's homely as a mud fence and I could never endure the shame. I'll keep bringing in the flowers, though.

Q: What's your favorite flower, and why?
A: *gasp!* How can you ask me that with a clear conscience? Which of your children do you love the most? I love all my flowers! (pssst - it's sweet peas because they're pretty, they smell great and they are well-behaved.)

Q: I've always wanted to garden, but I kill everything. How do I get started?
A: Take one bit at a time. Start with the easy stuff. Put on old clothes and get yourself and your digging fork outside. Tell your family they'll have to fend for themselves until first frost.

That's all I know about gardening, period.