Growing by the Bay

Category: gardens Page 2 of 3

Hummingbird and Iochroma

hummingbird in iochromaThis hummingbird loves the iochroma. Iochroma is a Central or South American plant unrelated to fuschia but similar in appearance. The flowers can be blue, purple, red, yellow, or white. It does quite well in our region.

The iochromas I have are Iochroma coccinea, which I bought as seedlings at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. Annie’s says it comes from Peru and is “totally tropical,” but the American Horticultural Society says it is from Central America (if anyone can shed light on this please provide info in the comments). Annie’s also says it blooms spring through fall but this year mine stopped blooming sometime in July, possibly as a result of our terrible drought. I thought they might be done for the year, but as this picture taken August 19 (date of this update) shows, they are back now with another blooming season:

Iochroma coccinea

Iochroma coccinea and norfolk pine

Annie’s charges about $10 for a seedling in a four-inch container. But the plant can be propagated from greenwood cuttings in late spring or from semi-ripe cuttings in summer. It should be top-dressed in spring. Pinching young plants will enourage bushiness.

This one is in a container, so it requires water once or twice a week in the dry season. I have another in the ground, which is larger — at least nine feet tall — and requires no maintenance at all.

All parts of the plant are poisonous. But not to hummingbirds.

Huntington gardens

Huntington desert garden

Huntington Desert Gardens

The Desert Garden at the Huntington Gardens is my favorite desert garden anywhere.

Desert Garden at Huntington Gardens, Pasadena

I’ll do a fuller post on this another time.


A late spring

Spring has come late for us in the Bay Area this year. Ordinarily our spring is around Groundhog’s Day. Now, after an extremely dry January and February, with a lot of frosts (which is also unusual), we’re finally starting to see signs of spring.

I received a new camera, an Olympus E-PL2, a couple of days ago and took of few pictures of the garden yesterday. (The E-PL2 is a micro four thirds mirrorless camera that has a near-DSL-size sensor but a small body.) This was a tough year for the garden, but things always look brighter at springtime.

Last year we bought some new fruit trees (apricots, figs, and limes). The apricots are blossoming:

apricot blossoms - P3080274

As are the plums.

plum blossoms - P3080276

The outdoor jade plants didn’t mind the dry weather.

jade plant - P3080271

Of course there’s no holding back the lemons (the persimmon in front is still thinking things over, however).

lemons - P3080279

And there are some fuschia flowers out.

fuschia flower - P3080281

fuschia flower - P3080282

verbascum maybe

A volunteer

this volunteer might be a verbascum

This handsome fellow planted himself in one of our walkways. But what is it? My guess is it’s some kind of verbascum.

pool garden

Pool garden, year four

Here’s a glimpse of the swimming pool that became a garden, now in its fourth year -hard to believe it’s been that many already.

swallowtail caterpillar

New garden photos

garden photos

Took advantage of the nice weekend weather and worked in the garden. This year our problem is that everything’s filling all the spaces and getting crowded. We’re going to have to be fairly ruthless.

Took some photos and posted them to flickr. Click the image or follow this link to my flickr garden set.

First tomato

We’ve had several cherry tomatoes, but this is the first full-size tomato of this summer. Always an event!

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Since converting our swimming pool to a garden we have had a lot more wildlife around. This year two pair of kestrels have taken up residence. We also have a lot of butterflies, beas, and hummingbirds.

This caterpillar is a swallowtail. They like plants in the carrot family, and this one was enjoying a lunch of dill. Eventually he will turn into a butterfly that will look something like this.

There are a few more photos in my nascent garden set on flickr.



Maltese Cross

This year our garden has been a little deficient in red flowers. An exception is the Maltese Cross, which produces large globular composite flowers. These are doing well. Above you can see them in the garden; below is a close-up (not too well focused, but it will give the idea) in a cut bouquet.

Another garden panorama

This is the garden from the narrow side, looking west. Clevr had trouble with this image, so I just stitched it in Photoshop.

Hey! I see a weed!


Pool garden, year 2 panorama

Panorama of pool garden, year 2 on

We actually took a step backward this year, in a way, because we expanded the garden by taking out more concrete, and so we undid some of our work from last year. But the garden recovered nicely and is doing well, especially considering our cold, gloomy June. The monster plants on the right are tomatoes, which are already starting to bear fruit.



bee, garden

We have many bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in the garden this year.


pool garden, year 2

pool garden, year two

pool garden, year 2

This year we decided to expand the garden that used to be a swimming pool. We broke up the decking that used to surround the pool.

removal of pool decking

We had to tear out the old drip system, and I’m redoing it now. We had to undo some of the plantings as well, since the paths and beds are no longer quite the same. Because the pool is about 70 percent bigger, we added a central bed. We edged the beds with bricks and made the central bed an oval shape. It amuses me to think of the result as a tiny Getty Center garden.

christensen center garden


Expanding the pool garden

The pool garden — the garden that used to be a swimming pool — turned out so well that we are expanding it. We hired a guy to break up more concrete from around where the pool used to be. It only took him about an hour. The result will about double the area of the garden. Here’s a little section that we’ve pretty much cleared out (this is the corner where killer tomatoes launched their imperial ambitions):

Thai hot peppers

thai hot chiles

How bad has our drought been here in the San Francisco Bay Area? It’s been so dry that we were able to let our Thai hot chili peppers dry out on the vine. I harvested them just the other day, in January!

The Southeast Asian peppers, known as “bird’s eye” peppers or chili padi, are small and hot. About 75,000-100,000 on the Scoville pungency scale (various figures are given by different sources), they aren’t as scorching as the very hottest peppers but they’re hot enough to require some care in handling. The peppers are slightly curvy and end in a point; they change color from green to red as they ripen. They generally hang point downward. The photo shown at the end of this post was taken in November; by January the plant was bare of leaves and only the large numbers of peppers that it produced remained on it.

Pool garden after four months

the swimming pool garden in august

In April we filled in our swimming pool and turned it into a garden. This is what the garden looks like at the beginning of August.

the swimming pool garden in august

We don’t live in one of the warm inland parts of the East Bay, but we have nonetheless managed to harvest tomatos, peppers, eggplant, and more.

swimming pool garden veggies, august 1


Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’ is a kind of mullein native to the mountains of Greece, but it makes quite a spectacle of itself in Bay Area gardens.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of the place is its large, wooly, silvery leaves, which grow in an attractive succulent-like (although the plant tolerates regular water) basal rosette pattern.

But the plant also gets obscene-looking fuzzy white stems that eventually become covered with yellow flowers, which are attractive to butterflies and bees.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

It’s possible to pinch out the flowering shoots in order to extend the life of the plant and keep the focus on the leaves. This is a short-lived plant, and if you let it flower it might only last a couple of years. I’ve let mine go, however, because I wanted to see how the flowers develop.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Arctic Summer’.

Pool garden after two weeks

pool garden at two weeks

Well, three weeks, but we were away on vacation for one. Recently we filled in our swimming pool, which has now become a garden. I had some plants in containers waiting to be transplanted, and I’ve planted a bunch of other stuff as seeds. The garden is still a little raw, but I’m reasonably happy with the progress so far.

The flowering plant at left is Matthiola incana (perennial stock); it’s fragrant and does well in our climate. You can also see an Iochroma coccinea and a Cussonia spicata, among other plants. You can also see the drip irrigation system I’m installing.


Hearst Castle gardens

Hearst Castle offers five tours covering different parts of the buildings and grounds. One of these is the garden tour. The gardens are not spectacular, but they are decent examples of the mediterranean style.

At this time in spring, lantana is a prominent feature.

lantana at hearst castle

Sometimes the Lantana is pruned in a clumping pattern.
lantana at hearst castle

Azaleas are another flowering plant that is featured.
azaleas at san simeon

The estate has a lot of steps and terraces that are used to set off plantings.
san simeon terrace

Ceramic elements and columns are other architectural features.
san simeon column

And of course the staturary for which Mr. Hearst was so fond.
hearst castle statue

American Soil and Stone: Local Hero

 american soil and stone

Mr. Vista has finally finished filling in his old swimming pool, which was built in the 1950s. He topped up the job with some local hero veggie mix from American Soil and Stone.

Dirt, as Jon Carroll has observed, is hardly dirt cheap. I think local hero runs around $35 a cubic yard. But it’s a good mix for the typical bay area garden. The base is a sandy loam, which is amply amended with organic compost, chicken manure, rice hulls, grape compost, fir bark, and cocoa bean hulls.

American Soil and Stone — I won’t use their acronym — has branches in Richmond and San Rafael. Where we live they delivered a truckload (10 cubic yards) for $55. They got the address mixed up though (fortunately the mailman was passing by and straightened them out), and they dumped the load in the street rather than the driveway as requested. So I recommend being at home to accept the delivery (we were having lunch at Chez Panisse when they came by).

Trees of San Francisco

oak street, san francisco

San Francisco was hardly a forest before the swell in its population in the mid-nineteenth century — it was mostly coastal dunes, scrub, and marshland. The city’s most extraordinary transformation was achieved by John McLaren, who magically conjured up a woodland out of Golden Gate Park’s dunes.

Today the city is home to many types of trees, some of them spectacular. One website has identified the locations of the best examples of 213 species; the list is still growing. If you want to see what a particular kind of tree looks like in the San Francisco ecosystem, all you need to do is consult this list. Click the screenshot below to visit the site.

Just for fun, I used Google Maps to zoom in on a handsome Juglens nigra (black walnut), located in the panhandle across from 1809 OakStreet (image above).

trees of san francisco

Miniature Chinese landscapes at the Conservatory of Flowers

penjing, miniature chinese landscapes, at san francisco's conservatory of flowers

To celebrate Lunar New Year, the Conservatory of Flowers is presented a display of penjing, the miniature Chinese landscapes that were the precursor to the Japanese tradition of bonzai. The tiny landscapes are said to have begun as a way for China’s dynastic emperors to visualize the landscape of their far-flung empires. The landscapes will be on on display through April 27, 2008.

The photo above, by Josh Keppel, is from NBC11’s page about the show. There you can also find a slide show and a video featuring the Conservatory’s Nina Sazevich.

Viola “Etain”


Cold and rainy as it’s been, January and February are the best time to prepare Bay Area gardens for spring and summer bloom. With its yellow flowers edged in purple, I think “Etain” is one of the prettiest violas, and it does really well in our area. Highly recommended. You can get it from Annie’s Annuals.

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