- Author: Karen Metz
I know we need the rain desperately, but all the gray has been getting to me a bit. But then I look outside and see my Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, blooming its little heart out on my back patio. It has such cheerful tubular red flowers that just keep blooming and blooming in the fall when everything else is tapering off. Although they can grow to four feet tall in the ground, they can also be grown in pots. The flowers attract hummingbirds as well as humans.
The leaves truly smell of pineapple and are edible as long as you have not used any pesticides. They are half hardy, so I will either cover them or bring inside during heavy frosts. We all need things in the garden that will put smiles on our faces.
- Author: Cheryl A Potts
A few weeks ago, a group of Master Gardeners were privileged to go on a field trip to San Francisco's wonderful Golden Gate Park to see the displays at the Conservatory of Flowers, the palace-like building appearing to be constructed wholly of white glass. The inside is full of exotic and rare plants and it is hard to decide which is more awesome--the building itself or its contents.
Our docent was a wonderful, young girl who was very knowledgeable, energetic, and humorous. Her introduction included the history of the Conservatory as well as the whole of the park. Her statement that at one time the whole area of the park was simply windy sand dunes seemed incredulous to me. Sand dunes? Desert? Constant wind? How in the world did this multitude of lush, green acreage come from such beginnings? No time to ask my questions as the group needed to move on.
So on my own, I have begun trying to find answers to these questions.
As it turns out, what are described as sand dunes actually were not exactly the Sahara Dessert I imagined. It turns out, there were actually fourteen year round lakes within the boundaries of the original 3,765 acres designated for the park. Several hundred willow trees, grasses, tules, and wild lupine bushes grew near the lakes as well as watercresses, cattails and other minor plants. Over time, the lakes were changed to become the Chain of Lakes. Elk Glen Lake, near South Drive, is still in existence and was one of the original bodies of water.
Also, in an area called Strawberry Hill, were found scrub oak, California cherry, and wild strawberry plants. Red-berried elder, native lupine, gooseberry and other plants grew throughout the area. However, much of the land was covered with drifting sand, causing it to be uninhabitable for plant or man. Even the horses would not venture forth, westerly, as the wind and sand coming from that direction into their eyes and noses were unbearable.
Solving the problem of securing the sand came by accident in around 1872. A horse pulling a wagon for an early surveying party accidentally spilled its feedbag filled with soaked barley seeds. The surveyors diligently scooped up the spilled seeds, and put them back into the feedbag. However, the horse refused to eat sandy seeds, so the bag was simply dumped onto the ground, A week later William Hammond Hall, the first supervising engineer for the park, found the spot covered with fresh green sprouts of barley. Previously, attempts had been made at sowing soaked lupine seeds, but these plants grew so slowly that the sand took over before the plant had a chance to develop. Now a combination of soaked barley and lupine were planted, the barley lasting several months, giving the lupine time to grow tall enough to control the sand. These plants lasted for up to two years without additional plant food, making the land capable of now accepting small trees.
There were still areas where the sand blew freely and eventually after many exasperating problems, barriers were built and the sand was controlled.
Irrigation was originally supplied from the existing lakes. but then a well was drilled near Stanyan Street and an elevated redwood tank was constructed. A steam pump was purchased to get the water into the tank, but the pump did not work to Mr. Hall's standards and was discontinued. Water was then purchased from a water company, which proved to be too expensive. As it turns out, the park is located over an immense underground water storage, and that resource has never been known to fail.
The first gardener and forester hired by William Hammond Hall was Arthur Lowe in 1872. He came to job with great credentials, but due to the fact that he was over 65 years of age when hired, could not endure the San Francisco climate. He resigned and returned to his home in San Jose after about one year's service. James Scott Henderson was employed as the head gardener in 1877, earning $5 per working day.
There is so much more to the history of the park, and it is fascinating. Corruption, bribery, political shenanigans, vigilantes, ridicule, lies, scandal, and attempted murder combined with dreams, visions, very hard work, dedication, deterioration, and rebirth are some of the factors in the history of this Bay Area gem--the story of Fredrick Olmsted, (the creator of New York' s Central Park) and his refusal to get involved because he said it was an impossible feat; William Hammond Hall's willingness to take it on, but with a determination that the park be free of buildings and busy streets giving the people of the City a quiet place to simply enjoy nature; the story Patrick Henry McCarthy, a young boy who liked singing as he worked building roads in the park, later becoming a mayor of San Francisco. There are hundreds more stories.
Early San Franciscans called out for a park to rival that of New York's, and they, finally, in the end, did very well.
The information in this article was primarily found in the book, The Making of Golden Gate Park (the Early Years: 1865-1906) by Raymond H. Clary published by the Don't Call It Frisco Press.
- Author: Betsy Buxton
I'm sitting here watching the rain (okay so it's only a light drizzle, but I'll take it!) through the front window and trying to decide what to write about. Should it be the weather – now is the time to turn off sprinklers; it's getting toward winter now do this and that to prepare; how to do some garden chore or other. I can't make up my mind.
Thoughts trickle around about field trips the Master Gardeners have taken this year: Bancroft Gardens in Concord, to Filoli in Woodside, and to the latest trip: San Francisco to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park! Lovely trips with docents leading the way answering questions of how, what, and where the viewed plants came from originally and how the work of these public places gets done. Much thanks to the intrepid Dottie who made all the arrangements, figured out the carpool stops, and just had to figure out all the angles of getting folks from here and there. Bravo to you, Dottie, Bravo!
My next thought is about the various Farmers' Markets in our county and how many Master Gardeners have faithfully given their time and energy to answering questions, identifying whole plants, leaves, and twigs for concerned folks who waited patiently for a turn at “Stump the MG”. On top of the local folks with questions, try to factor in those from other states and other California counties with comments and questions.
A big Thanks to all who joined our merry bands to spread the word about IPM, community garden plots in Vacaville, Benicia, and Vallejo not to mention parts of Napa and the greater Sacramento area, Alameda and other locales that were asked about. Those of you who haven't tried your hand at one of these Markets would be surprised at the breadth of questions as well as the depth of the subject matter that we've responded to during our Saturday mornings or Thursday evenings. I'm not sure of the numbers reported elsewhere, but in Vallejo the average number of contacts made is 58. Not bad for 2 or 3 people sitting there with no produce in front of us or free samples to snack on!
I hope all had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and that if you DID go shopping, you got what you went for! A last minute plug for the Vallejo Farmers' Market: It is the only Farmers' Market that goes year around so we hope to see you there on Saturdays 9-2 (unless it rains!).
- Author: Christine Macgenn
Dirt… The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth
I can remember my mother's voice asking, when I would come in from outdoors covered with smudges of all sorts, “Have you been playing in the dirt again?” My answer would be the same today as it was then, “Yes!” Digging was and is a favorite activity for me. As a child I lived on a farm in Astoria, Oregon. The soil was rich and black and full of little bugs and worms. To me it was a magical kingdom. I didn't understand where the magic came from but I knew it was full of surprises. After reading Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth and watching Dirt, The Movie, a film based on the book, I have a very good idea where the magic comes from. These two works will change the way you think about dirt. I'll share my experience of the book in this blog and I'll report on the film in the next one.
Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan, certified arborist and Quill & Trowell Award winning writer, is a series of passionate essays with names like Stardust, The Circulation of Stone, The Pharmacy of Mold, Wind and Soil, On Gopher Humps, The Earth for Jefferson and Adams and, Dio-He-Ko – Corn, Beans, Squash. These essays elevate the subject of dirt from “the ground we walk on” to “that upon which all life depends.”
Logan actually wrote Dirt because of something that happened in his friend Clyde's pickup truck. Clyde was a handyman working in New York City. He was asked to fix one of the stones on the face of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Unfortunately, Clyde fell from the scaffolding and was out of commission for many months. His open-bed pickup truck sat under a maple tree day in and day out, through all the seasons of a year. Dust and leaves and papers and cups blew into the flat bed. They were rained on and then dried out in the blazing sun. Pigeons left their droppings in the truck. More dust blew in and rain fell. More bits of trash were tossed in and then everything was heated and reheated in the sun again and again, layer upon layer upon layer. And then, one day, Logan noticed that there were plants growing in Clyde's old pickup truck. Beautiful green plants were growing out of a rich potent soil. He knew right then he had witnessed something profound. In that moment Logan knew he wanted to know everything he could about dirt.
Both witty and wise, Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth is the kind of book you can curl up with in front of the fire. You know you are reading science, and learning so much, but it also speaks directly to your heart. It reminds us of the vitality of soil, of its innate ability to recycle — air, water, and even waste and turn it into something fertile and productive — and that it has been doing this since the beginning of time. Dirt teaches us that whether we are learning about the history of agriculture, diversity in burials, backyard gardening, deforestation, or urban sprawl, life begins and ends with soil and it always has. Rather than a “how to” on making soil healthy, Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth is a reverent and comprehensive study, compelling us to honor dirt and support and nourish its ability to save us and our planet.
Peter Warshall, of Whole Earth, reviewed Dirt like this: “Logan sets out to purify dirt, to embed us so intimately in the skin of Earth that we will live, momentarily at least, entranced by its vibrancy….This is the most literate book to bring soil to soul and soul to the subterranean!” It's so true. Logan's words pierce our consciousness, evoking thoughts and feelings that resonate deep within us long after we put the book down.
Over time Dirt has developed an almost cult following across the world. It is as full of captivating characters and stories as any great work of literature. St. Phocas, earthworms and Darwin, compost, penicillin, and Thomas Jefferson traverse the pages together. And to that end we come away from reading this book knowing fully that we must interact with dirt and treat it with respect because our future depends on it. At this time of year, or any time, it is a great gift for anyone interested in gardening.
- Author: Jenni Dodini
Our recent trip to Sedona involved a lot of hiking into the beautiful canyons in search of the vortex. The photography does not really show the depth of color in the soil. It is really quite red!
While on the trip, I started noticing these plants along the freeway and became increasingly mesmerized. When I got home, I asked a friend who is active in the Native Plant Society and she was able to identify it for me as the Ocotillo. Now I had a place to start gathering information.
I went online to DesertUSA. Then to the Sunset Western Garden Book. What I was really trying to find out was if I could have one, and more importantly, if it would survive here. Well, here is what I learned.....
The Ocotillo is Fouquieria splendens from the family Fouquieriaceae. There are 11 species, most of which can be found in Mexico, but are native to the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts of southeast California to west Texas and, of course, Mexico. They are known as a bajada resident. (Really??? We did not learn about that in class!) After a quick visit to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, I now know that this is a broad alluvial slope extending from the base of a mountain range out into a basin and formed by a coalescence of separate alluvial fans. (OK, makes sense now. I remember that part of class.) The ocotillo grows in open, stony, well drained soil on desert slopes below 5000 feet elevation. (First clue that it might not survive here.)
It is actually a deciduous, woody shrub. It grows in zones 10-13, 18-20. (Clue #2) The leaves are small and close to the stem, and are dropped quickly during hot dry spells(drought-deciduous), leaving it leafless most of the year. The leaves sprout quickly after rain and the plant blooms annually, even without leafing. However, they grow and bloom best if soaked deeply once a month. The flowers are generally red, tubular and about an inch long on the end of the branches on a stem about 10 inches long. They grow in an inverted funnel shape with up to 75 whiplike, spiny straight branches that angle outward from the base. They can grow as tall as 20 feet. Needless to say, but they require full sun. Propagation is simple- cut a branch and stick it in the ground. If they are planted close together, in rows, they will form a living fence. Other names listed are: Candlewood, Slim Wood, Coachwhip, Vine Cactus, Flamingsword, and Jacob's Staff.
So, as a result of my research, I concluded that I would probably be better off to enjoy the pictures and save my money at this time. However, if El Nino fails to visit and this horrible drought continues, maybe......