Bernal Hill Sunday

I haven't done a post like this in a long time. I hate to do it without my new camera, but it hasn't arrived yet. When it gets here, we'll do it again and it will be much better.



























Saturday morning garden

My new camera can't come fast enough. I found the Canon of my dreams on Ebay for $300 and Guy made it my Christmas present. Yay! It's a discontinued model, but I can't imagine going without the vari-angle LCD. As a garden blogger, that feature is my life. Do you hold the camera up to your eye every time you take a picture? Ugh! No way.

Hopefully, the new camera will come this week. In the meantime...


Tithonia diversifolia. The fragrance is more than just chocolate. It's like chocolate + vanilla.


Just a couple flowers on it right now.

A surprise Fremontodendron flower in November. With the ever-present little brown ants. What insect eats ants? I need need to attract it.


And Clarkia amoena, also a surprise. This was from a seedling planted in July that benefited from proximity to a Meyer lemon getting supplemental water. What a horrible sentence.

Clarkia amoena

There was some leftover Bailey's from Thanksgiving, and I'm drinking Irish Coffee. That's what's in the black mug.

Vitis + Irish coffee

Yesterday I sat and watched three different little birds come through the garden picking worms and caterpillars off everything. I just sat in that chair and watched them hop from place to place, feasting. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me.


The raspberries are doing very well. I've been picking one or two here and there for eating in the garden. The canes take a year to really get going I guess. I look forward to having raspberries by the basketfull. Maybe next year I'll make a raspberry cheesecake for Thanksgiving. To go with the Irish coffee.


I've been cutting back the dead parts of the two remaining tomato bushes and letting them keep going otherwise. I mean, why not, right?



Fruit hunters

Wouldn't it be fun to grow more fruit?

Alas, not in coastal gardens. Not yet, anyway.

You can find all kinds of unusual fruit in San Francisco's ethnic markets. Someone brought a durian to my plant ID class. It was rank and I couldn't bring myself to taste it. My friend who went to a Catholic school in Vietnam said the nuns made the students kneel on durians when they misbehaved. Ouch!



A Stapelia grandiflora blooms in Sacramento

Go give it a whiff and say hi to the blogger at the link.


A book close at hand.

"...deep alluvium at the mouths of canyons that drain into the sea. These rich soils overlay the broad, uplifted terraces of coastal valleys such as the Russian River, Santa Clara, Salinas, Santa Ynez, and Santa Ana. The live oak woodlands of the Santa Barbara plain and the massive trees of Mission Canyon are typical of this species at its best. Coast live oak also grows on rolling hills formed from ancient coastal sand dunes. Such porous soils, however, are lower in nutrients and retain little moisture during summer. As a result, oak woodlands occur here as clumps of small trees separated by large patches of open grassland."

Cited from Bruce Pavlik's Oaks of California for a blog meme explained by EAL thusly: "[G]rab the book closest to hand—no cheating—turn to page 56, choose the 5th sentence down, and post the results, including other lines if necessary to provide context."

I thumb through this book at night sometimes before bed, trying to glean a better understanding of California's oaks. We have 9 tree oaks--5 deciduous & 4 evergreen--and 11 species of shrub oak. I have a little cutting propagule of shrub oak Quercus berberidifolia growing in a pot down in the garden.

The Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) is most common in my area and as far as I'm concerned the best place to see them is the campus of my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, sited in a mixed oak-redwood forest.

I would be content if I could learn to easily identify just a few other California oaks--Valley, Blue, and Black--but the book is little help. Basically it says oaks are very variable and hybridize freely; identifying them can be hard. Well...heck.

I took a winter walk in an oak woodland last December.

Sweet potato and apple casserole

In case you went away from yesterday's post thinking I'm a food snob, here's my favorite recipe for sweet potatoes using those horrible mini-marshmallows.

It's delicious.

3 medium sweet potatoes, sliced
2 large apples, sliced
2 cups mini-marshmallows
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
4 tbsp butter

Spread half the potatoes in a 3-quart casserole. Add apples and marshmallows. Repeat layers. Mix sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over mixture. Dissolve cornstarch in water. Pour over mixture. Dot with butter. Cover and bake at 350 deg F for one hour.

From Best of the Best from New Mexico Cookbook (Quail Ridge Press, www.quailridge.com)


Are you cooking Thanksgiving dinner?

In my family, my grandmother owned this tradition for most of my life. In her later years, it became too much work for her and no one else was ready to take it on. We went to a restaurant in Menlo Park instead. Besides grandma, I don't think anyone else truly enjoyed those Thanksgivings. Since grandma died, we've been casting about for new traditions.

I'm the only person in my family who I think genuinely enjoys making the big holiday dinner. It is a little stressful since no one taught me how to do it. I'm still learning, and I'm getting more confident every year. People insist it's tremendous work, but it's not exactly work. It's a challenge.

Last year I did Christmas, and it was a success. This year we're going to see Guy's family in Florida for Christmas, so I'm doing Thanksgiving instead. Everyone wants to bring something. The fact is, I don't want anyone to bring anything. My family can't cook. They don't want to cook. They'll go buy something already made and bring that instead. But I don't want to eat that, and I don't want to serve it. So, please. Don't bring anything! Just show up on time, and be gracious. That's all I ask. Let me take care of it. I want to.

Is that wrong? Am I rude? Thanksgiving only happens once a year.

My people are very conventional, and they expect the routine fare. Anything else would be a surprise. Blank stares and furrowed brows. Faint sights of disappointment. So to satisfy my desire for novelty and culinary sophistication, I tweak a little bit here and there. If I tweak a little bit more every year, maybe one day they'll be more...like me!

I've been making this two-layer pumpkin-pecan pie for a few years now. I'm going to make it again this year, and then make something else as a surprise. That way I fill the predictability quota while also getting a chance to spread my wings. My turkey wings.

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin layer:
3/4 cup pumpkin
2 tbsp packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp sour cream
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

Pecan layer:
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 tbsp melted unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup pecans
1 9-inch uncooked pie shell.

Preheat oven to 425 deg F.

Pumpkin layer: In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, sour cream, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Pecan layer: In another bowl, combine syrup, brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, lemon rind, lemon juice and salt. Stir in pecans.

Spread the pumpkin layer into the pie shell, then carefully spoon the pecan mixture over it. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 for 20-30 minutes more. The filling will puff slightly, but the center will not be completely set. Serve warm or at RT.


Saturday morning garden

My camera is totally dead. Not only is it killing memory cards, it's killing batteries. Who knew cameras had a "battery error" message? You can see all the dust in the lens. What a bummer.


For now I'm stuck using Guy's make-believe FujiFilm A210 from, like, five years ago. Until I can scrape enough pennies together to buy the camera I really want, it's a waiting game. (Usually, I would just buy the camera I want, but with my 401k lately blown to smithereens, and my job situation eternally uncertain, it seems prudent to dig in and wait for the big deflation NPR's constantly yammering about to dial that price tag down a little bit.) The waiting is the hardest part.

I got my first seed catalog today. Do you know these people? They're in Maine. I was born in California, but my family comes from Maine.


I've never received this catalog before. I see they have some negative reviews on Dave's Garden. Does that matter to you? Who the hell are those people, anyway?

This catalog has some cool season tomatoes with shorter DTMs than I've ever seen. I generally rely on 'Stupice' at 60-65, but these people have 'Polefast' and 'Tigrella' at 54 and 55, resepectively. They also have a 53-day French filet bean called 'Straight 'N Narrow' (does not sound French) and a 75-day winter squash called 'Cream of the Crop'. I've seen the glaucus pumpkin from New Zealand named 'Jarradale' before (100 days). Why don't I grow that? Perhaps I shall.

I did some fall planting today. This is Rosy Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande) I grew from seed.


It doesn't look like it's ready to get planted out, but the roots are coming out the bottom. I'm pretty sure that means it's ready to plant. Besides, I did an experiment last week and planted one out, and it's doing fine. When it flowers it looks a little bit like this:


But imagine it with a better camera, please.

I also planted out more of the Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora) that I grew from seed.


It doesn't look like much now, but tip it out of the pot, and the tuberous root is ready to rock.


Here's the insect that populates my garden during the winter. I think that's its head.


I was in the garden last night and found two of these dangling from a leaf. I thought what I saw might have been discarded "skins" or something, but when I went down this morning they were gone, so I guess they sleep by hanging. Crazy insects.

Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' is blooming lightly. I'm not sure what to make of that. This is not February or March.


I know Ceanothus will re-bloom in the fall if you prune it in the spring. But I hope a few flowers now won't mean fewer flowers later. I count on the the spring bloom.

On the other hand, Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba' is always putting out.



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.


November Sunday Garden


Which is the better picture?



Some Crocus speciosus are still flowering.

Crocus speciosus

But most of them look like this now.

Crocus speciosus

I found some mushrooms today. These are uncommon in my garden, for whatever reason.


Gnomes on the other hand are very common.


And this is the most common large insect out and about in my garden during the winter months. This is the second one I've seen this season.


And it's not even winter yet.

I'm sorry--that was a joke.

Except for the sun going down by 5 p.m., the last few days have been summery--warm and sunny with clear, blue skies. While typical summer days in San Francisco are not warm and sunny with clear, blue skies, I meant summery as an abstract idea.


My garden chores in November do not differ much from any other time of year. Do you add shredded newspaper to your compost pile? It helps to keep the flies down when you've added lots of kitchen scraps recently.


Who even reads a paper newspaper anymore. Guy reads the Wall Street Journal for work and San Franciscans get some free newspapers delivered every day even if we don't want them.

Some people don't like to put colored newsprint in their compost pile for fear of leaching out toxic dyes or something. I don't care to worry about that.

One thing you can be sure of as a garden blogger--the day after Bloom Day promises more blooms in the near future than Bloom Day itself. This is Tithonia diversifolia. The flowers are yellow asters that smell like chocolate. I would like that very much.

Tithonia diversifolia

I would also like to have Aquilegia flower in my garden, but it never has.


All columbines seem to do here is get major leaf miner infestations. And because one of my horticulture teachers once peeled apart a miner-infested leaf and to show the class the maggot feeding inside, the infestation is not only ugly, it grosses me out a little bit. So I cut back whole clumps of columbine to the crown, it resprouts vigorously, and then gets leaf miner. Still, I keep the faith.

Achillea is another one I have some trouble with. It might grow okay, but it doesn't flower that well. Especially after it's been there for a year.


I try different kinds. This one is a pink form from Southern California islands. I keep the faith.