Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Touring the UCSC Arboretum

Last Saturday, I spent the morning touring the UCSC Arboretum with one of the garden clubs I belong to. I really enjoy this arboretum, especially at this time of year because many of the collections are in bloom. There is an emphasis on Mediterranean garden plants from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and California. Although the garden isn't formal, I've always had a fun time tramping about and taking pictures. The hummingbirds are particularly fun to watch, with their mating displays and other antics. First the club was given a short history of the Arboretum by Ron Arruda, the curator of the South African Collection. Then, a few of the volunteers spoke about volunteer opportunities available. I love Proteas and Leucadendrons so I'll share a few of my pictures:

Protea Nerifolia 'Bishop Desmond Tutu'

Leucadendron argentatum
This plant is a 30 foot tree

In addition to the gardens, there is a gift and plant shop called Norrie's. It is completely run by volunteers and you can purchase plants that have been propagated by the volunteers from plants found in the gardens.

Close up of the yellow Leucadendron

Here are some cuttings from the gardens. You can see how just a few of these plants make fantastic arrangements:
Leucospermum (Pincushion flowers)

A variety of Leucadendron

History of the Arboretum:

Arboretum main web page

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Expectantly thinking of summer

Please spot the nut job. She's standing under the apricot tree, up on her toes, straining to see if there are apricots. The flower petals just recently dropped. The pollen has barely had time to travel down the style to the ovary. Or has it?

Yes, I'm thrilled to say that there are lots of these tiny fuzzy knobs all over the tree. I might actually have to thin this year (fingers crossed). The five I had last year were just enough to wet my palate. I'm terribly excited to see these fruits, so small they haven't burst the flower collar yet.

Now in the other corner of the garden, this is what you don't want the cabbages to do:

You can tell that a cabbage is about to bolt when the leaves start to feel loose and "fluffy" versus tight and compact in a ball. A cabbage that is about to bolt can be slowed down by grabbing the head and twisting it so the root rotates in the ground and breaks some of the roots. But, if a cabbage seems like it's about to bolt, it's better to harvest it. My problem is that they look so enchanting in the garden. They are lovely, gigantic rosettes and sometimes I'm too enamored with them to harvest them.

I guess I kept hoping it might get bigger. Oh well. But it does make an interesting pattern.

The tomato seedlings are up and I'm now brushing them everyday. Brushing them involves lightly running your fingers over the seedlings, almost like tickling them. Outdoors, of course, this slight motion back and forth would be caused by breezes, and the stress strengthens the stems so the plant is stronger and stockier. I was taught this technique by another gardener who loved my seed starts, but felt they could be a little stronger if I had added more light and brushed them regularly. My first ones would fall over at the slightest hint of a breeze. A few have their first true leaves, so I think next week I'll start to pot some of them up.

Picture taken on 21 March just after I arrived home from work. They're leaning towards the last rays of sunset.

Listening to Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential

Again, I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. I went to Amy Stewart's talk at Capitola Books, promoting her new book Flower Confidential. I've been following Amy's writing over on her blog, and then at Garden Rant where she is a contributer. But as her new book is out she hasn't had much to contribute to Garden Rant. But I always enjoy reading her work.

And I sat in the audience wondering why I don't go to more of these author talks. As I am taking this writing class, I found I was learning a lot about the writer and the process of writing. I think the only thing that I find to deter me is that I'd spend a whole lot more money on books if I went to the talks more regularly. And that is a dangerous temptation for me.

Amy Stewart's book is very enlightening, if you've ever wondered about the flower industry at all. I find that the subject is parallel to where our food comes from (before the grocery store). She does touch on many current topics like sustainable production techniques, organic growers, fair trade, and carbon footprint. Even in the first few chapters, I know the names of people she is writing about; Luther Burbank, Leslie Woodriff, Ted Kirsch, etc. First of all, I have a passion for plants and when all you can think about is plants, you start to learn the names of hybridizers, growers, resellers, garden authors, and the lot. I was similarly amused when I read The Orchid Thief, as I recognized many names there too, since I had been a suscriber to American Orchid Society for years. I didn't think I'd like the book as I had judged it by its cover. First of all, it's not a ghost orchid, which is what the plot revolves around. Secondly, and perhaps the most disturbing aspect is that the cover is a picture of a Phalaenopsis and it is upside down! But I digress.

And secondly, much of the writing in Flower Confidential is about places that are local to where I live. On my way home, I pass greenhouse after greenhouse. Nurseries here grow everything from exotic succulents and orchids, to poinsettias and carnations. Colorspot - the company that grows many of the annuals in Home Depot, has it's main growing facilities only a few miles from my home. So maybe the plant disease is an airborne contagion, but I think the problem simply caused me to gravitate to where the plants are. I must be near them. [grin] She also writes about Bonny Doon Garden Company, which is a florist located on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I love her bouquets and would pass up a delicious meal in a fine restaurant in trade for one of her creations. She brought 2 arrangements to the book talk that were to die for. And I love the fact that many of the arrangements come from local gardens & nurseries. As much as I appreciate the lovely roses from South America, I would rather have locally grown flowers.

By the way, I should note that I ended up loving The Orchid Thief, despite the cover. And so far, I am really enjoying Flower Confidential.

Here's a little description of the book in the author's own words:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cutting Day

My favorite day at my garden club is cutting day. It's the day when we get together and bring branches from our gardens and we all make some cuttings. The idea is that we will propagate plants that are successful in each others gardens. And as we all have similar soil and climate conditions, this can be a real boon. Here are some of this year's cuttings:

The picture below is from a Leonotis leonurus that I grew from a cutting last year (just before it was going to bloom - not currently blooming now, though). It's one of my favorite plants, and I've never seen one at the nursery.

I've gotten some great plants this way, although I'm not 100% successful. But even a few plants are greatly appreciated.

Monday, March 12, 2007


This morning I was musing to myself "I wonder when the poison oak is going to spring back to life so I can try to eliminate it." That being said, I should also mention that I'm hugely allergic to it.

Then I looked down and noticed a vine. I grabbed it and thought "what's this?" Of course, I was standing dead in the center of a huge patch of poison oak with one of it's newly sprouting tendrils in my hand.

You can imagine the next few choice words......

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oh no. Not again.

I've started this year's tomatoes. I'm only planting those seeds that succeeded last year. So many didn't make it. The ones that did, I preserved the seeds, even if I didn't like the variety or it didn't produce many tomatoes. Tomatoes that made the list:

1884 (raised in the greenhouse)
Anais Noir (also raised in the greenhouse)
Beauty Lottringa
Black Plum
Cherokee Purple
Cream Sausage
Florida Pink (raised in the greenhouse)
German Strawberry (greenhouse)
Great White
Heart of Compassion
Jaffe's Cherry
Japanese Oxheart
Jersey Devil
Kentucky Beefsteak
Northern Lights
Roma Pompeii
Peche Jaune
Silvery Fir Tree
Sunset Red
Ukranian Heart
Ukranian Pink Pear
Orange Russian

(If you've reached this page by google search and wonder why I'm only listing these varieties, please read my post "Garden Mistake Confessions". Then you can try to find specific varieties if you wish.)

But on the other side of the greenhouse I was surprised to see this:

The German Strawberry, the Anais Noir, and the Ukranian Pink Pear have all sprouted from what I thought was a dead stump. And the German Strawberry has been busy this winter. I found a couple of rotten tomatoes from the freeze. If I had noticed them sooner, they would have been eaten. Too bad.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Thoughts in the garden today.....

How many wonders are in the corners of a garden?

Seeing the bright colors of the flowers

Tasting sour sorrel leaves

Hearing a carrot go pop when you pull it from the soil

Watching a lizard as it finds a warm spot in the sun

Discovering that an onion flower smells like onions

Enjoying how the birds feed their young and finally teach them to fly

Nibbling sweet sugar snap peas straight from the vine

Surprised by a frog leaping out of the watering can

Having a butterfly land on your arm

The wonders of a garden are as infinite as the world

And all within reach of home.

A bee working an onion flower in the garden.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


bright green leaf buds swell
white blossoms drift in the breeze
weeds even look good

Friday, March 02, 2007

Strolling in the garlic forest?

The picture is this year's crop of elephant garlic or Allium ampeloprasum. They won't be ready to harvest until July or August. But I was amused by this point of view. I've raised this batch over the years I've lived here. I got them from a gardener, years ago. I didn't have a yard, so I put a few of the bulbs in my father's yard. They've been growing and flowering there for 6 years while I lived in Aptos. Then, when Mr. C. and I moved to Elkhorn, I went by Dad's to see if I could find any bulbs. There were only 2 left. For the last 3 years I've been increasing their numbers. This year there are 15 plants, and I will finally get to have some elephant garlic this summer.

Elephant garlic has larger bulbs than regular garlic and a milder flavor. In fact the plant is more closely related to leeks. Don't make my mistake of growing both together as I couldn't tell one from the other until harvest. Also, a benefit to growing your own garlic year after year is that the plants become more adapted to your specific growing conditions, making stronger and bigger bulbs. Save a few of the biggest for planting next season.

Elephant garlic makes a lovely flower, but it's best to cut them out to get bigger bulbs. You can sauté the scapes (unopened flowers) in butter or olive oil.

Although, with the sniffles that have been going on here, I was wishing I had more now. Garlic is a good expectorant and helps with chronic bronchitis. Although I think if I grated it into honey (as is the recommended procedure for coughs), Mr. C. would run out of the house as if I was trying to poison him. I guess I'll just have to slip some garlic chives into his eggs for breakfast.