Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Month: March 2017

Wheelbarrow detail.

The Orange Wheelbarrow

Orange wheelbarrow.

So much depends upon an orange wheelbarrow, scarred from rough use, beside the green citrus.

Cunonia capensis

Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Tree

Stipule of Cononia capensis, Butterknife Tree.

Stipule of Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Tree.

Some leafstalks are marked by outgrowths at the base, usually on opposite sides. These were named stipules by Linnaeus, from the Latin word stipula, meaning “straw” or “stalk.” Not all plants have stipules, and among those that do, they vary greatly in appearance “and might appear as glands, scales, hairs, spines, or laminar (leaf-like) structures.” The remarkable, conspicuous stipules of Cunonia capensis, the African Red Alder, or Butterspoon or Butterknife Tree, are a focal point in the garden, almost always remarked upon by people who see them for the first time. The paired stipules are reddish in color and pressed together like cupped hands — or like butterspoons, I guess, whatever those are. (I say “butterknife” rather than “butterspoon.” I can see how the stipules are spoonlike, but I don’t apply my butter with a spoon, do you?)

An evergreen multistemmed perennial shrub or small tree from South Africa, this is one of my favorite specimen plants. I used to have several that I lost in our severe, years-long drought. The plant doesn’t need constant water, but it doesn’t like being dry, and I was careless (or all too responsible a California citizen). It also dislikes heat, and I’m now growing this one in a large container in part shade. While the tree can reach thirty feet in damp forests, it is seldom seen above fifteen feet in the open. Several sources report that it can be kept for many years in a container, and this has been my experience. It grows in zones 9–11 and prefers good drainage.

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Many ducks.

The morning commute

 

This brings back memories of my commute to San Francisco’s Civic Center, right down to the honking and passing along the shoulder. The traffic here is just moving a bit faster.

At this South African vineyard, a thousand Indian Runner Ducks keep the vines free of snails. The ducks are probably more enthusiastic workers than most of my fellow commuters. But then, they get paid in snails.

I guess all our garden needs now is a few hundred ducks.

Crabapple blossoms.

The prettiest fruiting tree blossoms

Crabapple blossoms, March 2017.

Crabapple blossoms, March 2017.

Crabapple, hands down.

Mugwort.

Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort

Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort.

Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort.

This California native mugwort, here growing in a container, is happy after this year’s wet winter. I acquired a couple of specimens last summer, and they looked pretty rangy during those dry months. Like many native plants, mugwort is pretty resilient, tolerating shade and aridity up to a point, but in nature it favors moist locations.

It’s an underappreciated perennial plant for the garden. While top leaves are whole, lower leaves are lobed in a sharply jagged cleft pattern. The evenly-spaced leaves are dark green above and silvery (and a little wooly) below. The plant is aromatic, especially when the leaves are crushed.  It attracts butterflies and birds, and is said to be deer resistant. Stems grow erect from runners (which are not too difficult to control); some sources say they get to six feet tall, but I have never seem this plant above about three or four feet. Flowers (summer to fall) are insignificant.

Artemsias are in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. Artemisia douglasiana is sometimes classed as Artemesia vulgaris var. douglasiana, but it is much more bitter and strongly flavored than the European mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) referenced in many herbals. (There is also a Korean variety, which is closer to the European than to this native California mugwort.)

Also known as Dream Plant, the leaves of mugwort contain some of the same substances (notably thujone and cineole) as those of another Atemisia, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). When smoked or drunk as a tea, they are said to produce vivid dreams, and to ward off the spirits of the dead. Native Californians sometimes wore mugwort necklaces for protection against such spirits. In the European tradition it was held that pillows stuffed with mugwort could reveal one’s future in dreams. One herbalist calls mugwort “ the star of any dream pillow.” A reference more to my taste is  “The Natural History of Orange County, California and Nearby Places,” which cites several print sources.

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Euphorbia myrsinites.

Euphorbia myrsinites, Donkeytail Spurge

Euphorbia mysrinites, Donkeytail Spurge.

New growth on Euphorbia myrsinites, Donkeytail Spurge.

Lots of new growth on the Donkeytail Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) this mid-March. The new growth is bright green; older leaves are blue-gray. Also called Myrtle Spurge because the Latin word myrsinites alludes to myrtle (Myrtus communis), which the plant was thought to resemble, this is a succulent spurge native to Southern Europe and West Asia. It is a low-growing (to about six inches) evergreen perennial. The “tails” grow to about one to one and a half feet long, spreading radially. The bright new growth resembling flowers is actually a specialized leaf called a bract.

Euphorbia mysrinites, Donkeytail Spurge.

Euphorbia myrsinites, Donkeytail Spurge, trailing over a container.

In some respects this spurge can be nasty. It projects seeds quite a distance and can overrun other plants. It is illegal to grow in Colorado, where it is classed as a noxious weed because of its invasive habit, though San Marcos Growers say this is not a problem in Mediterranean climates like ours (I would not recommend it in inland climes, except with caution and vigilance). In addition, like many spurges, it produces a sap that can cause fairly serious skin irritation in some people (and other animals); children are especially susceptible. You don’t want to get the sap in your eyes, that’s for sure. Finally, it is alleopathic, meaning it produces a substance that can prevent other plants from growing nearby. For these reasons I grow mine in containers and use gloves when repotting.

Despite all this, I am fond of this plant, as I am of most spurges (for an opposing take, check out the spurge haters at Dave’s Garden). Annie’s Annuals describes it as “an easy, tough, tidy groundcover that lends marvelous texture to rock gardens and is great trailing over rock walls.” I also have several Honey Spurges (Euphorbia mellifera). Both plants have not only interesting forms but also an almost electric brightness. You feel like this plant knows something. I just don’t know what.

 

Flipped-out spider web.

One weird web

Flipped-out spider web.

Flipped-out spider web.

Did the spider that wove this strange web outside one of my dining room windows get into somebody’s stash?

 

unknown weed

What’s this weed?

unknown weed

It’s a new one this year. Kind of pretty, but it sends out long tendrils that choke out everything.

Rain rain rain!

Detail of Kitazawa Seed Co. catalogue cover photo.

Browsing the Seed Catalogues: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Kitazawa catalogue cover.

Kitazawa catalogue cover.

Kitazawa, now based in Oakland, offers a two-color (green and black) catalogue printed on yellow paper and illustrated with line drawings. 2017 marks the company’s 100th anniversary. It was founded by Gijiu Kitazawa, an apprentice to a Japanese seed company who immigrated to the U.S. and settled in San Jose, where he sold seeds out of a downtown store.

Kitazawa seed catalogue contents page.

Kitazawa seed catalogue contents page.

During the war the Kitazawa family was forcibly interred into relocation camps, and the business had to be abandoned. Because of the internments, many Japanese-American farmers lost their farms, so after the war Kitazawa, having lost its local market, began a mail-order business.

Kitazawa catalogue spread.

Kitazawa catalogue spread.

The company features a range of Asian vegetables, not limited to Japanese. I would say that they have the most extensive selection of Asian vegetable seeds of any of the vendors I received catalogues from. Their descriptions are concise but informative.

Kitazawa special packages.

Kitazawa special packages.

Besides individual seed packets, priced at $3.69, the company offers packages of several seeds, called “Chef Specialty Gardens,” at a reduced price. I ordered the Stir Fry Garden mix.

Kitazawa seed packets.

Kitazawa seed packets.

I also ordered several other seeds from Kitazawa this year, and the company responded instantly: As I recall, the well-packaged seeds were in my mailbox the very next day! I was astonished.

A Kitazawa recipe.

A Kitazawa recipe.

In keeping with the family-oriented spirit of the company, their catalogue includes some recipes using the vegetables.

Orders can be made by phone, fax, mail, or via a secure web page: order info is here. This is one of my favorite seed vendors. Highly recommended.

The garden, March 4, 2017.

The Garden, March 2017

The garden, March 4, 2017.

The garden, March 4, 2017.

After this extraordinarily wet winter, we had to remove some trees from our hillside lot. This gives us more of a view of the valley as well as more sun to the garden. It’s all good.

Speaking of the garden (which once was a swimming pool), looking at this photo I see some work that needs to be done. But things are certainly very green, for here.

Wayside Gardens, South Carolina, 8 x 10.5 in., 104 pp.

Browsing the Seed Catalogues: Overview

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that one of the delights of gardening is browsing seed and plant catalogues. I have a handful of vendors I usually buy from, but this year I decided to do a fairly comprehensive survey of vendors and their catalogues. I know it’s late in the season for this, but I think there is still value in comparing the catalogues, if only for preparing for the fall batch (though I still have some spring ordering to do). In subsequent posts I’ll discuss many in detail. For now, here’s a gallery of the covers, together with the location of the vendor, the trim size of the catalogue, and its length. Stay tuned for more (list of vendors below the gallery).

The catalogues:

  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Missouri, 9 x 10.75 in., 148 pp.
  • Bluestone Perennials, Ohio, 8 x 10 in., 92 pp.
  • Botanical Interests, Colorado, 8.5 x 10.75 in., 72 pp.
  • Bountiful Gardens, California, 8.25 x 10.25 in., 72 pp.
  • Grow Organic: Fruit Trees, California, 7.75 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Grow Organic: Gardening Essentials, California, 7.75 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Grow Organic: Quality Tools, California, 7.75 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Grow Organic: Seeds, California, 7.75 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Growers Supply, Connecticut, 7.75 x 10 in., 138 pp.
  • Gurney’s, Indiana, 9.25 x 13 in., 68 pp.
  • Harris Seeds: Garden Trends, New York, 7.25 x 10.25, 124 pp.
  • J. L. Hudson, Seedsman, California, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 96 pp.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Maine, 7.75 x 10.25 in., 244 pp.
  • Kitazawa Seed Co., California, 8.5 x 11 in., 48 pp.
  • Park Seed, South Carolina, 8 x 10 in., 148 pp.
  • Pepper Joe’s, Maryland, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 34 pp.
  • Pinetree, Maine, 8 x 10 in., 132 pages
  • Raintree Nursery, Washington, 8.5 x 10.75 in., 96 pp.
  • Richters, Ontario, 6 x 9.5 in., 96 pp.
  • Seed Savers Exchange, Iowa, 8.5 x 10.25 in., 116 pp.
  • Seeds from Italy, Kansas, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 64 pp.
  • Seeds of Change, Minnesota, 7.75 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Select Seeds, Connecticut, 8 x 10 in., 68 pp.
  • Territorial Seeds Co., Oregon, 7.25 x 10.25 in., 164 pp.
  • Wayside Gardens, South Carolina, 8 x 10.5 in., 104 pp.
  • White Flower Farm, Connecticut, 8 x 10 in., 140 pp.

Trim size is approximate (the edges of some catalogues are rather imprecisely  trimmed). Some catalogues have self covers and others have a cover stock around the inside pages. Most number the cover as page 1, but some omit the covers from the page counts. (One, Pinetree, actually numbers the inside front cover as 1, so that their versos are odd and their rectos are even. That’s dumb, and someone should have a word with them.) I have tallied up the pages as best I can, including the cover pages in the count.

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