Saturday, January 29, 2011

SF Chronicle Pick of the Week columns

Many of you find this blog from my regular column in the Sunday SF Chronicle (Pick of the Week). That column focuses on one flowering plant each week, looking at not just the description of the plant and the growing conditions it prefers but in many cases little known aspects of its history or explanations as to how it acquired its common name. What many occasional readers of the column may not realize is that they can find all of these columns, now going back five years, archived on the Chronicle's website, There are two ways to access these columns. You can enter my name in the search box from the home page or if you want to look for a particular column you can enter the botanical (or in some cases the common) name of that plant. You will however initially only be given results from the last 30 days. At the top of the search page, you will see a drop down menu that allows you to search the last 90 days, one year or full archive. The latter choice is the simplest to employ. You can then choose to organize them by date, with the most recent appearing first.
You may have noticed on the far right side of this blog a chronological listing of my Pick columns. They're in two sections -- up above are columns beginning with January 2009. Below that, I've archived the older columns alphabetically by plant name. You can use this listing of column entries to find a particular plant of interest on the SF Gate site. I've also written a dozen or so feature articles that are archived on this same site.
I've now written over 75 Pick of the Week columns so there's plenty of interesting plants to take a closer look at in this format. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Feels Like Spring

We had a customer come into our Grand Lake Ace nursery yesterday who said "Where are all the plants?" Translation, why don't you have a vast selection of plants? I had to remind them that, wait for it, "it's still January." Sure doesn't feel like it, does it? We've begun stocking a selection of spring annuals, things like poppies, Love-in-a-Mists, clarkias and Baby Blue Eyes. And there's no denying that the bulbs are getting the message as well. The first of my crocus are up, so are the daffodils, I've had my first iris bloom, the earliest of my bearded irises are budding up and my S. African bulbs are all up. And you know what this means, don't you? Yes, time to clean up your planting beds, which is a kind way of saying weeding, weeding, weeding. And strangely for this time of year, especially given the deluge of winter rains we had the last three years, our gardens need a bit of watering right now.
That said, here are a few wonderful CA natives to plant right now:
Gilia capitata (Blue Thimble flower). This pretty plant, with the blue globe flowers, is a prolific bloomer and generously reseeds in your garden.
Phacelias. My favorite is P. viscida, with its gorgeous inky blue flowers that showcase intricate nectaries. Commonly known as Ca bluebells.
CA poppies. Of course there's the familiar orange ones but Annie's Annuals propagates a variety of other colors, including burgandy, red, rose, yellow and even white.
Baby Blue Eyes. Yes, these sky blue flowers are just the prettiest things you can hope to see but this genus (Nemophilia) also has a black trimmed in white variety, a white one with purple spots and a snow white variety. Heavy bloomers.
Clarkias. Who doesn't love these commonly seen in the wild flowers? The pinks are very popular of course but two varieties, Salmon Princess and C. amoena 'Aurora,' offer lovely salmon flowers. I grew the latter last year and it went wild, producing masses of coral, cup-shaped flowers over a three month period. There's even a clarkia for shade (Pink Ribbons).
Speaking of shade, why not plant the charming Claytonia sibirica? A cousin to the wild growing Miner's lettuce, this low growing plant has pink-ribbed white flowers and will colonize an area.
For a touch of cheerful yellow, consider Tidy Tips or Meadow Foam, two spring annuals that are very floriferous.
The earlier you plant these and other natives, the more vigorous the plants will be, resulting in earlier and more prolonged blooming.
Now, let's hope winter doesn't return in March ...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fabulous Houseplants

This time of year we often take a break from gardening. That doesn't mean however that we can't add a few interesting plants to our world. There are any number of fabulous houseplants on the market and spending more time indoors, now is an excellent time to add one or two. Here is an article I wrote for the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times/San Jose Mercury News which my editor amusingly titled Beyond the Common Frond. There's no need to sacrifice color, design or even flowers in choosing houseplants, as this list of ten intriguing plants will make clear.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gardening New Year's Resolutions

Hard to believe that 2010 is history, though some like myself aren't unhappy about that. I'm hoping for a drier winter this year and an actual spring. And summer. And fall. None of which happened in 2010. So here are my gardening resolutions for 2010, with the caveat that I'm trying to be realistic (I could resolve to create such a fabulous garden that Sunset will come knocking to photograph it but that's not going to happen and really I don't want that kind of picture perfect garden anyway).
1. Get more plants out of pots and into the ground. Being a collector and having limited ground space makes for a constant challenge to find appropriate space for new acquisitions.
2. Finish my back yard tropical corner. Even the most diligent of us loses steam on a gardening project and the restoration of my back yard has taken longer than I imagined. The tropical corner is evidence of that, although in fairness to myself I had to sledgehammer out a LOT of concrete and cement that had once been poured in there before I could do any planting. At least I have several of the foundation plants located there -- a red banana and black bamboo, an hedychium, burgandy canna and nandina. There's room for one or two more larger plants and then I'll be into the understory plantings. The rest of the back yard is greatly improved, with the multi-colored gravel path restored, shade shrubs planted on both sides, my collection of rhodies that will be left in large decorative pots gathered nicely and the area cleaned up.
3. Dig out the area between the two front driveways. This will be a job as the front portion is filled with bearded iris. But I want to create a more intentional design scheme there, rather than the haphazard planting that occurred naturally. I'm imagining a warm spring day for that job. It's the main sunny area and the one that passersby notice first so want it to look good.
4. Continue to photograph and document my garden. This is pleasurable and practical, as the photos provide a storehouse for my regular newspaper column and occasionally for this blog and the journal helps me keep track of when perennials return and how they perform. I highly recommend either of these activities to gardeners.
5. Lastly, I want to make greater use of natural predators in my garden to deal with unwanted pests. I also want to plant more berry-producing shrubs for the many bird visitors that frequent my garden year round.

It doesn't matter how ambitious or modest your goals are for your garden, I find it helpful to write them down so that they move to the forefront of my mind. And just maybe you'll reach the end of 2011 and be able to check some of these goals off your list! Spring may just be a twinkle in our eyes right now but it isn't too early to dream about a more beautiful garden!
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