Big Ideas for Small Gardens

That was the title of Dave Egbert's talk at Monday night's CalHort meeting, and also the title of his new book, co-authored with Emily Young.

I love CalHort meetings, but I don't go to every one. In fact, this was the fourth meeting I attended all year. You can find the other two that I blogged about by clicking the CalHort tag at the bottom of this post.

Meetings start with a show-&-tell. Don Mahoney, Curator of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, brought two potted Medinilla plants (fam. Melastomaceae) that were flowering in the Garden's nursery. I took some blurry pictures with my camera phone.

Medinilla alata:

Medinilla alata from my camera phone

medinilla alata 2 from camera phone

And a Medinilla sp. bearing flowers near the crown. Those pink things down there are flowers, growing on short, woody stems.

medinilla sp.

These plants can grow outside in coastal California, but one can grow them as houseplants. Logee's sells different kinds.

Dr. Mahoney also mentioned that the Botanical Garden's salvia lady, Jean Coria, died last Saturday after an illness. I didn't know Jean, but I do know 'Jean's Purple Passion'--a tall, lanky salvia with the soft, fuzzy purple salvia flowers. Unlike most full-sun, drought tolerant salvias, 'Jean's Purple Passion' likes part-shade, and supplemental water.

Godspeed, Jean.

(At the Botanical Garden nursery, if you're in charge of some kind of plant you lose your name and everyone refers to you in the third-person as "the so-and-so lady". So you have salvias lady, natives lady, shrubs lady, perennials lady, rose lady, et cetera, et cetera.)

After the show-&-tell, there were notices...

Seeds for the seed exchange are due by the end of November. I'm going to contribute hard-to-find seeds of Calif. native wildflowers Stylomecon heterophylla and Platystemon californicus. In exchange, I hope to get seeds of a rare, unnamed purple-flowering annual cuphea grown only by a few people outside of the Botanical Garden.

The president of the Arboretum Society (the non-profit arm of the Botanical Garden tasked with supporting its educational mission) talked about the Garden's ongoing capital improvement campaign. They've raised $22M of the $30M needed to build a new nursery. For a Garden of Strybing's stature, we have the world's sorriest nursery. For one thing, it's situated in a cold sink. They say it's actually San Francisco's point of lowest elevation, several feet below sea level.

The new nursery will be on a frost-free hill and have--hooray--an indoor bathroom. (A major improvement over the current port-o-potty situation.) Since nothing happens in San Francisco without a public hearing, the Garden sent out 34,000 notices and 84 people showed up. According to the president, they wanted to talk about how the new nursery would affect 1) wildlife, and 2) parking. Wildlife and parking--two of San Francisco's most pressing concerns.

After that, we talked briefly about ways to increase membership. CalHort membership is way off--down to just 300 from 800 ten, fiteen years ago. This was right before Dave Egbert started talking. Egbert segued into his talk by advising us to start filming the meetings and putting them on YouTube. He said people don't go to meetings anymore. They like to stay home and get their information online. Well, that idea went over like a lead balloon. If you think seed catalogs going virtual might be a problem, try revitalizing a garden club whose dues are paid by blue haired old ladies who like to go to meetings, not sit home alone in the dark watching YouTube. (I can say that with some impunity because I know they don't read garden blogs.)

People are very entrenched in their ways of doing things, aren't they? I was talking to a former Botanical Garden employee, and she said entrenchment is a real problem for the Garden. There's a cohort who've been hanging around the place so long they think it belongs to them. On the one hand that's good, because feeling ownership, they assume leadership. On the other hand, they are rigid and inflexible and resistant to change and cannot adapt to new conditions. Furthermore, by always being there and taking charge, they keep new people from rising up.

Egbert's talk was fine, although short. He said you wouldn't fill a small room with miniature furniture, so why fill a small garden with miniature plants? Be bold. Start with foliage. Plant in layers. Make room for seasonal change. Use many plants of one kind as opposed to many plants of different kinds. Use big plants with empty space, e.g., tree ferns. Plant under and around and let plants intergrade. Clematises are drought tolerant on the coast.

He had some great picutres, and people asked him about that. They all came from Sunset's enormous picture collection. He said Sunset has an usual approach to using pictures. Instead of having an author justify why he needs to use a particular picture, he must explain why he does not want to use a particular picture. Sounds difficult, and time consuming.


Anonymous said...

How about red haired old ladies who do read (or write) blogs? Red, the new blue.

I like the be bold idea too, along with many of one kind instead of few of many kinds. Something very hard for us collector types to do. I am going to make it a point though, from now on.

BTW, is your cat Penny named for P-house? I keep forgetting to ask.


chuck b. said...

No, Guy named Penny. He just liked the name. It's short for Penelope, but we never call her that. I wanted to name her Babette.

steelystyle said...

I love everything you just said about entrenchment. One of my current projects is the redesign of Pacific Grove's Natural History Museum native plant garden, and this post is pretty much what I'm living over there. Thanks for making it less lonely

Brent said...

'At the Botanical Garden nursery, if you're in charge of some kind of plant you lose your name and everyone refers to you in the third-person as "the so-and-so lady"'

You volunteer there. Do you have a nom-de-jardin?

Unknown said...

I worked with Jean Coria for ten years, growing some 300 species of Salvia. (We were 2 species of Crazy.) She accepted the nom-de-jardin "Salvia Lady", but I think would prefer to be remembered as "Sage"...

Beautiful garden pictures, Chuck!

Jonathan Oppenheimer

JvA said...

Your description of the garden club leadership sounds like a lot of community orgs up here.

chuck b. said...

Jonathan, thank you for the note about Jean. I know she was very popular at Strybing.