On floral design,

which I do not do very much or very well:
"Flower arranging is not considered a fine art, although what is created is often recreated in paintings and photographs that become inexplicably expensive. Where in the signature of a painting by a Dutch master is the name of the florist who created the bouquet? We might assume the painter created the floral display, but this may not necessarily be true. Floral designers must accept that they are toiling, for the most part, in anonymity.

Florists rarely become famous. And yet when a floral display graces a gala event at a gallery or museum, the living beauty of fresh flowers easily upstages static art."
Well, it's the permanence of static art that allows it to become famous, right? Still.
"You may think it highfalutin to talk about floral design as art, but art it is. A flower arrangement is an intimate, sensual expression of creativity, always meant to be enjoyed by at least two of the senses. A florist in a shop, much more so than any other artist, is forced to produce works of art--using a highly perishable medium--on demand. Florists are performance artists whose creations grow and change and decay, and the entire process must be seen as an evolving continuum of the medium (flowers) in order to be fully appreciated. Learning to create fine art of this type takes time, and learning to appreciate it takes even longer..."
Just something I read in Linda Beutler's book, Garden to Vase which I recently obtained. We met her on the old blog when she spoke at the San Francisco Botanical Garden's design symposium, Gardens that Work.


Garden for the Environment

I'm always happy to visit this garden at 7th Avenue at Lawton, and we've come here on the blog together many times. This place demonstrates what a productive, water-wise, and ecologically friendly San Francisco garden can be...given sufficient sun. Even situated in the fog belt, as this garden most certainly is, on a corner lot without any tall buildings, a home gardener would be blessed to have this much sun anywhere in San Francisco.




Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'


Salvia apiana









The gardeners emphasize year-round flowers, and year-round food production. The small, attractive beds are perfect for small, city gardens.



I didn't get pictures, but they also grow several apple trees, a big kiwi vine, and some lemons.


Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

San Francisco was warm and sunny when I left home this morning for another hike on Skyline Road. Last week I went to El Corte de Madera Creek. My friend Emma, who reads the blog and e-mails her comments, maintains a preference for Purisima Creek. I came here once--before I was blogging--at least five years ago. I didn't think it was all that great. It was better than I remember it, but I'm sure I picked different trails this time too.

Anyway, as I said, it was warm and sunny when I left San Francisco... I found Purisima Creek shrouded in fog and mist. I showed up wearing a light t-shirt, and no jacket. After living here for 40 years, I should know better. But it was fine. I warmed up quickly; the trails run up and down the sides of coastal mountains. Had it not been obscured by fog I would have seen the ocean today.









The weather gave the woods a haunted feeling. As in, haunted by ghosts. Being startled by a buck staring at me from 20 yards augmented that feeling. I'm not scared of ghosts, which I do not even believe in. (Because no such things exist.) Regardless, I want to document that there was a haunted feeling in the woods today.






I was in no hurry so I dallied and did not commit to finishing any loop that I started. I turned back when I didn't want to walk down any too-steep hills that I would later have to walk back up. Nor did I feel like walking on any exposed, windy ridges without a jacket. I stayed in the woods and ventured fourth on three or four trails. I tend to look at the big picture going forward, and the small things coming back.






Doug iris


Ground-nesting yellow jackets typically belong to the genus Vespula in the family Vespidae. All stinging insects belong to the order Hymenoptera which includes bees, wasps, and ants. Hymenoptera venoms kill more people than the venoms of any other venomous animal in the world--as many as 100 people die from it every year in the US. That's remarkable because I know 15-20 thousand people die every year from snake venom in India. How many more people have to die from bees and wasps to make Hymenoptera venom the most deadly? I don't know.


Yellow jacket venom is different than bee venom. Bee venom primarily contains a polypeptide 26 amino acids long named melittin. Melittin stimulates phospholipases of type A2, a family of enzymes that hydrolyze the middle ester of a phosphoglyceride, triggering a potentially serious inflammatory cascade. Yellow jacket venom contains phospholipases themselves and a variety of other polypeptides and small molecules that initiate inflammatory responses from white blood cells.


Fortunately, I have never been stung by any stinging insects from the order Hymenoptera. Or bitten by any snakes. I've never even had poison oak. And I ain't afraid of no ghosts.


Alrie Middlebrook, on "Edible California Natives"

I am not a foodie by any means, but I enjoyed this talk at last night's CalHort meeting very much. My notes below are cribbed from Middlebrook's talk and her slide presentation, somewhat reorganized for a blog post. I cannot vouch for any of her claims or statistics. If these things intrigue you, it is for you to do further research.

Based in San Jose, Alrie Middlebrook designs gardens with California-native plants, 400 of them so far, and wrote an excellent book on that subject with her mentor, Glenn Keator. They taught the garden design class Natives in Style at the San Francisco Botanical Garden together for 12 years. More important than designing a garden she said, is stewarding it. I loved her immediately.

Middlebrook came to gardening with a background in art. She considered herself "an artist who was interested in plants." Keator ignited her passion for natives after she'd passed through other phases in gardening--tropical, Mediterranean, et cetera. She learned about plants in the natural landscape on botanizing excursions with Keator, who learned from Wayne Roderick, who learned from Lester Rowntree.

Middlebrook believes you can teach people to love native flora by teaching about it as food. California has 6000 native plants. 1500 are garden-worthy and 1000 are edible. Middlebrook says, "If you garden, you have to get involved with food at some point."

She called the native edible food movement the next big thing, citing the examples of leading restaurants like Copenhagen's Noma, which was recently voted the world's best restaurant. Noma, in the words of the award committee, "is an homage to soil and sea, a reminder of the source of our food."
"Take [chef Rene’s] starter of crunchy baby carrots from the fertile Lammefjorden region of Denmark, served with edible 'soil' made from malt, hazelnuts and beer, with a cream herb emulsion beneath – you are literally eating the earth!

Great restaurants are a blend of sophisticated cooking, imaginative ideas and respect for ingredients. Noma is more than this. It’s a experience that reminds you why some restaurants deserve to be revered."
Middlebrook and her colleagues work with chefs at acclaimed local eateries like Greens, Manresa, and even the Google cafeteria to develop recipes that emphasize native ingredients. The California Native Garden Foundation offers examples of these recipes here.

Many people have written about the unsustainability of our current system of food production--the reliance on petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers, the risks of monoculture, chemical and mechanical destruction of soil tilth imposed by the large-scale cultivation of annuals. Middlebrook wants to find ways to augment our current system with native ingredients. She wants to apply modern food development and preparation technology to the edible plants that already grow naturally without any human assistance. She encouraged us to consider the potential benefits of replacing just 10% of our gluten-based flour supply with acorn flour. Oak trees grow without any additional water, fertilizer, pesticides, or tilling. In fact, using any of those things around an oak tree may kill it.

Key factors to consider when developing native plants for food : nutrient value, adaptability to modern tastes, the potential to grow plants as agricultural food crops that can be easily, and profitably, integrated into mainstream California cuisine.

Without pretending that we can feed 37 million Californians the way the Indians ate, native Californians may nonetheless serve as a template or starting point for consideration. Middlebrook referred extensively to Kat Anderson's popular book Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources (which I still haven't gotten around to reading since I first heard about it over 2 years ago).

California's abundance sustained native populations estimated to range between 375,000-700,000 (some estimates as high as 2M) over a period of 12,000 years. California had the largest population of Indians anywhere in the Americas, due to the abundance and diversity of food. (Note: I think we also have to give props to the human-friendly weather. Where else would people choose to live without furnaces or air conditioners?)

Native Californians and the Spanish explorers had the same life expectancy when the two met --about 35 years. But the natives apparently had healthier teeth and skin!

The native diet consisted of 1000 different foods, 60-70% which was plant-based. (In comparison, Americans today eat about 40 plants.) They relied heavily on acorns and pine nuts and used fire extensively to manage fertile grasslands of the Central Valley to produce abundant edible seeds and bulbs. Because they burned instead of tilled, European settlers viewed the Indians as lazy.

There were 100 tribes in California, each with its own language. They traded amongst themselves. For example, coastal Indians traded fish for agave sugars from the Indians in the desert.

California can be divided into five ecologies with the edible plants that grow in them.

Desert: agave, opuntia, mesquite, chia, pine nuts
Mesquite makes a sweet-tasting flour that is 20% protein, low in carbohydrates and fat. Mesquite seed pods are 40% protein and high in minerals. A mesquite stand produces as much food as a wheat field, without irrigation, cultivation, or chemical support.

A handful of chia seeds (Salvia columbariae) abates hunger for several hours. Chia is widely available in health food stores now.

America gets its pine nuts from Korea and China. Not even Italy! Meanwhile, we have pine trees everywhere.

Agave syrup is already in popular use. We import it from Mexico although agaves grow freely here.

Opuntia paddles and flowers are both sweet and high in vitamin C. Roast the flowers.
Riparian: nettles, currants, elderberry, watercress (naturalized from Europe)
Nettles are 10% protein, more than any vegetable, also high in minerals and vitamins B and C. They substitute for any green. I know I've seen nettles on the menus of many restaurants in the last few years. And I'm a huge fan of this American woman and travel/food writer/journalist from Los Angeles who lives in rural France now with her husband and daughter and posts updates on Flickr as These Days in French Life about her "slow life" endeavor. They grow their own food or find it growing in the countryside, salvage and/or barter for almost everything they need to live with. Anyway, she's forever wild-collecting nettles for dinner and doing interesting things with nettles, including making nettle lasagna.

Elderberry is an ancient plant, the flowers and berries of which Europeans have been eating in different ways for millennia.

Ribes aureum has the best flavor the California currants.
Redwood: huckleberry, salal, bracken fern, mushrooms
Mushrooms can be grown year round in northern California. Some people are looking at ways to replace meat protein with more nutritive mushroom protein. MykoWeb has recipes.
Oak woodland: acorn, mushroom, miner's lettuce, gray pines
Acorns provide more food for more animals than any other tree, ever. The oak is the universal "tree of life". Literally millions of oak trees already grow all over California, many on public land. Public lands are grazed, mined, and logged. Why not harvested for acorns? Possible uses: flour, starch, butter. (Butters from all kinds of nuts are popular right now.)

Miner's lettuce is Claytonia perfoliata, eaten by the 49ers during the Gold Rush. Seeds sprout easily. I've grown it in my garden. I haven't gotten it to naturalize yet because of my constant "editing". 37% protein, 42% carbohydrates, 13% fiber. High in calcium.
Grassland: amaranth, bulbs, grains, seeds.
Amaranth was a huge component of native diet, until Spanish colonialists banned it because the Indians used in their spiritual rites and had associations with idolatry. (Who asked them?!)
I like the idea of eating more vegetables, nuts and seeds...but I'm not big on mushrooms, yet. Middlebrook grew up in Michigan, where her mom maintained a half-acre vegetable garden. Growing up, it was common to have 5 or 6 vegetables at the dinner table.

Another organization/website she mentioned was the Ecological Farming Association (meets at Asilomar every year).

Again, this is all about finding ways to take some of the burden off the unsustainable ways we grow food now. And it's about getting started and doing experiments in the garden, and in the kitchen.

Middlebrook's colleague John Farris (spelling?) brought chia cookies for us. They were tasty (but some chocolate chips would've been welcome). I ate two. (Note: that is not my scary old man hand.)

Arlie Middlebrook handing out chia cookies (tasty--needs chocolate). Chia = Salvia columbariae


Bloom Day

It's always a little funny to me when people say they "went looking for blooms for Bloom Day" since I can usually see all the blooms in my small garden standing still and without turning my head. That is certainly true this month.

This one really stands out under overcast skies. I grew most of my dahlias from seed and I'm surprised I actually planted this one in the ground given its red+yellow colors. It will have to go.


Fortunately, it only has one flower because it's growing in the shade.


We have other fuchsias blooming. F. fulgens


and F. 'Miep'.


I'm excited to see some fall asters, although I am not excited about fall. This is Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black'. I got two of them earlier this year from Mostly Natives in Tomales.

Aster lateriflorus, for Bloom Day. A midwestern prairie plant I learned about from Piet Oudolf. <3

The cultivar name refers to the foliage which is dark, or would be if I grew mine in fuller sun. It's still dark, but not as dark as it could be.


This a prairie native from the American mid-west, not a California native. Piet Oudolf includes it on his list of "late flowering perennials that have good foliage in the earlier part of the summer" along with Eupatorium purpureum, Helianthus salicifolius, Tricytris formosana, and Veronicastrum virginicum (Designing With Plants, page 76).

This looks more like a California aster although it too is an eastern descendant of Aster novae-angliae. I put it in the garden very late so it just has one crop of flowers at the top of a teetering stem. Hopefull it will still be here next year to show us what it's really all about.

Aster novae-angliae 'Skyscraper'

When does Verbena bonariensis give up and go to seed?


I'm ready to cut it back. I feel newly anxious for neatness in the garden and the long, leaning stems everywhere are getting on my nerves. (Of course, I can't cut them back because the bees and butterflies still need something to eat when they visit every day.)

The yellow in the background is Rudbeckia triloba.


I probably can cut back the leeks because the flowers have made seeds already.


In case you're going to tell me that leeks are biennials like someone did on Twitter last night, please don't. Leeks are perennials and you can Google that if you want.

Speaking of vegetables, I'm just about done with my Magda squash experiment on the front steps. It was a big success and we'll do it again next year.


No varmints attacked the plants as they bore fruit on the front steps like what happened in the backyard. We got an okay crop for three plants considering how downright cold it was most of the summer. At this point the leaves are getting ratty and moldy. When morning sun is in their face it really shows their age. In the garden I would start new plants and phase these out, but it's late September and I really should be back in school. But those asters, whatever they are, belong in the garden for sure. I love them. I need to find out the name.

On the subject of asters (again), Tithonia diversifolia has some flowers and lots of bulbs. You'll be seeing a lot of it here for the next few months.


Unforch, the flowers are high up this year and I don't get the chance to enjoy their chocolate scent.


That's okay. I'm not going to complain.

Also blooming: Cestrum elegans and Madia elegans, the flowering maples, Tibouchina urvilleana, two passionflowers, Asclepias curassavica, Huechera 'Marmalade', and this totally wonderful Sedum album 'Nigrum' in pots on the front steps.



The sun is coming out now as I finish my Bloom Day post. That would have been nice a couple hours ago when I took all these pictures. Maybe you had better lighting in your garden for Bloom Day, or you can find better lighting going in any of the other 78 gardens (and counting) participating in Bloom Day this month.