Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Mystery hummingbird

Hummingird in iochroma

Hummingird in iochroma.

The iochroma is flowering, and that means the hummingbirds are back. I like to photograph them, in part because this particular iochroma is right outside my study window, and it makes a nice diversion from my literary work, and also because it’s challenging to freeze the speedy little hummers in photos.

But what kind of hummingbird is this? I’m not the bird identifier that Charles Hood and Jonathan Franzen (my companions on a Catamaran catamaran a while back) are. I get frustrated because bird books tend to feature adult males. I suspect this one might be immature, or maybe even a female. In any case, try as I might, I cannot find a reference to California hummingbird that has a yellow patch on its head.

Any birders out there?

The Farmer’s Daughter, South Kingstown, Rhode Island


The Farmer’s Daughter is a fifteen-acre farm and nursery, founded in 1998 and run by Sarah Partyka, that is located in a rather upscale, mostly rural region about forty minutes south of Providence in Rhode Island. Heavily forested and low in elevation, this area is located in climate zone 6, with distinct maritime influence from Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  (It’s quite close to the eastern tip of Long Island, as the crow flies.)

The extensive nursery includes several greenhouses. There are plants in flats or small pots as well as good-sized trees and shrubs, along with a large selection of garden decor. Fresh produce such as raspberries and heirloom vegetables are also offered.

We didn’t intend to buy anything, but of course ended up carting off a bunch of plants for our Pawtucket property. While I strolled around, I took a bunch of (cell-phone) photos, shared below (click for somewhat larger — 723 px — versions). I am not providing botanical information, because my interest was in design — color, texture, pattern — and particularly in juxtapositions of plants that happened to be located adjacent to each other.


fame un spritz video capture detail

Fame un spritz!

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for a refreshing spritz, the signature drink of northern Italy. And while we’re at it, let’s repost this fun video, Fame un spritz (Make me a spritz) by Sir Oliver Skardy & Fahrenheit 451, which I originally posted over at back in 2010.

At that time, also at rightreading, in a post titled “it’s a small world apertol,” I also posted some early thoughts about spritzes, along with with the simple basic recipe.

I’m reminded of this by an article by Robert Siminson in today’s New York Times food section. In the print edition it’s called “The Spritz: It’s All Built on Bubbles.” The online version is called “Bitter and Bubbly, the Spritz Evolves.”

So fame un spritz!

mediterranean zone map detail

How to Make a Climate Summary Graph Showing Duration and Intensity of Hydric Deficit

Mediterranean climate zones, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook

Mediterranean climate zones, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook.

Those of us who live in one of the world’s five Mediterranean climate areas can take cheer from the fact that these regions are home to some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. As an example, according to Olivier Filippi’s The Dry Gardening Handbook (translated from the French by Caroline Harbouri), 25,000 plant species grow in the Mediterranean Basin proper (about 10 percent of all the world’s flora), compared to just 6,000 species in all of non-Mediterranean Europe.

These plants have adapted to our dry summers in various ways and to various degrees. We need to recognize that there are many variant subregions within the Mediterranean Climate zone. In general, however, gardeners who regularly water native plants over the summer months will end up killing them. Turn off that irrigation timer!

Donald Trump’s comments to the contrary notwithstanding, California has been in a multiyear drought. That is a fact, based on recorded annual precipitation. But for gardeners and farmers there is another meaning of drought—“physiological drought”—which refers to periods of hydric deficit. Hydric deficit occurs when plants transpire more water than they can take in through their roots. It is not just a function of water but of the relationship between water and temperature. This is critical for an understanding of Mediterranean climates.

We should not think of plants as either “drought tolerant” or not. Instead we should understand them on a scale of hydric deficit tolerance and seasonable adaptability, as this map from Filippi’s book suggests.

Mediterranean drought map, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook

Mediterranean drought map, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook.

It is helpful to create a line graph that enables visualizing the extent and duration of physiological drought conditions in your location. Following is Filippi’s chart for Marseille, France. Note how the graph displays both duration and intensity of physiological drought. (Further below is the graph I have done for my garden.)

Marseille climate diagram, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook

Marseille climate diagram, from Olivier Filippi, The Dry Gardening Handbook.

I have made such a graph for my garden (further down the page). Here is how to do it:

  1. Acquire monthly precipitation and high/low temperature data.The chart is based on sixty-five-year averages of temperature and precipitation. This data is not available for my location because we don’t have a weather station that has been keeping track of this data near enough (currently there are some nearby Weather Underground stations, but their data is only from recent years). Unfortunately for the present purpose, conditions vary quite a lot across short distances here. So I acquired data from Richmond, Berkeley, Orinda, and Martinez (google “climate summary [you location]” and look for results from the domain, and estimated my data using those.
  1. Average the high and low monthly temperatures by adding them together and dividing by two.
  1. Convert from Fahrenheit to Celcius with the formula (F-32)/1.8.
  1. Convert precipitation from inches to millimeters by multiplying by 25.4.
  1. Create a graph with two Y axes. P is precipitation in millimeters and T in temperature in Celcius. T-axis intervals must be twice the P axis intervals, so that, for example, 80 on the P axis corresponds to 40 on the T axis. The X axis is simply the months of the year.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to create a line chart in Excel with two different Y axes with different scales. So I had to draw the lines by hand, which is not a real precise technique but might be close enough for visualizing. If anyone can tell me how to do this in Excel, I’m all ears.

  1. Draw lines connecting the data points. Conventional is red for temperature and blue for precipitation.
Climate map of Tom's Garden, showing duration and intensity of summer hydric deficit

Climate map of Tom’s Garden, showing duration and intensity of summer hydric deficit.

So there you go. The part of the year where the red line rises above the blue line is the period of hydric deficit. You can see that the duration of drought in my area is from May through September, and that August is the month when hydric deficit is greatest.

Armed with this data you can select plants that are optimized for your region.


Garden, May 2016

May Day Garden (part 2 of 2)

Garden detail, May 2016

Garden detail, May 1, 2016.

It’s taken me a long time to complete what was meant to be a quick survey of the garden after returning from a trip. These photos are now a month old. I’m starting to feel like Lawrence Sterne.

Papaver glaucum, May 1, 2016

Papaver glaucum, May 1, 2016

Last time I looked at Gruss-an-Aachen and Citrus Burst roses, Senicio talinoides ssp azoides, Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’, Datura wrightii, and Papaver glaucum. We left off with the poppies, so let’s continue with the above view of the same plant (it can also be seen in the banner atop this blog). This is our best year for these poppies ever.

Limes, May 2016


Some of the edibles are looking good. The limes are a couple of years old, and this one is producing fruit quite well (the other one is recalcitrant for some reason, though it appears healthy). I’m growing them in containers. Limes are, of course, essential for the cocktail garden — more on that soon.

Leaf lettuce

Leaf lettuce.

This lettuce didn’t seem to mind being left to its own devices for a while.

Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Bush

Cunonia capensis, Butterknife Bush.

Butterknife Bush, Cunonia capensis, is one of my favorites. I lost some in our long drought. This one is starting up in a large container, and it’s looking beautiful. This plant is sold at Annie’s Annuals, where it is also called Butterspoon Tree (personally, I use a knife with butter). Most things at Annie’s are sold (either at the nursery or online) in 4-inch pots, but Cunonia grows quickly.

Salvia spathacea, Hummingbird Sage

Salvia spathacea, Hummingbird Sage.

Though Cunonia, native to South Africa, is a little exotic, we’ve been growing a lot more natives recently. I’ve always been put off by the moralistic anti-immigrant tone of some proponents of native plants. (I’ll bet they don’t mind apples and tomatoes.) But I love them for their practicality. Appropriate natives are easy to grow, have a very high success rate, and in our area can be quite drought tolerant. Each spring here in the East Bay Bringing Back the Natives hosts a garden tour, which is well worth joining. Above is Salvia spathacea, Hummingbird Sage, which is doing great, and the hummingbirds really do love it. It spreads by runners, so I will have to keep an eye on it. By the way, one of the best sources of information about California native plants is Las Pilitas Nursery, which is in SoCal. Our local Watershed Nursery, in Point Richmond, is also good, though it generally provides less detailed information. It’s where we buy most of our natives.

Plantago subnuda and Crassula muscosa 'Petite'

Plantago subnuda and Crassula muscosa ‘Petite’.

Another native I like is Plantago subnuda, Coastal Plantain. I has veined basal leaves and puts up interesting tall stalks. The plant in the container behind it is Crassula muscosa ‘Petite’, another South African native. It loves our Mediterranean climate, and I will have to uppot it soon. I like to intersperse container plants throughout the garden.

Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia, Beach Primrose

Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia, Beach Primrose.

Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia, Beach Primrose, another native, is a favorite of Carol’s. It grows in coastal dunes, so I made a soil mix for it with a good bit of sand. I see that Annie says it is showiest in loamy soil though. I’ll have to propagate a couple of cuttings and experiment.

I could go on, but let’s leave something for another time.

Garden detail, May 2016

Garden detail, May 2016.

Mayday garden detail

May Day Garden (part 1 of 2)

May Day garden detail: California poppies, sweet alyssum, camissonia cheirauthifolia (Beach Primrose), senicio talinoides ssp azoides (large kleina)

May Day garden detail: California Poppies, Sweet Alyssum, Camissonia cheirauthifolia (Beach Primrose), Senicio talinoides ssp azoides (Large Kleina).

May Day: Not the distress signal, more like the traditional Northern European folk festival marked by bountiful “May Baskets.” I think the festival developed out of Floralia, the Roman celebration of the goddess of flowers. (I remember dancing around May Poles as a kid. I doubt that’s done anymore.) Anyway, having returned home from a couple of weeks away, I did a quick survey yesterday — May Day — to see what was going on in the garden after our time away (any excuse to practice my garden photography!).

Gruss-an-Aachen roses

Gruss-an-Aachen roses.

The first thing I noticed was that the Gruss-an-Aachen roses are looking good. That’s a key sign, because it means the deer haven’t breached the permimeter. If they broke through they would eat the roses practically down to the ground.

New growth on Citrus Burst Roses.

New growth on Citrus Burst roses

The Citrus Burst roses are putting most of their energy into new growth. They’re clilmbers that can reach 12 feet high.

Citrus Burst Rose flowers

Citrus Burst Rose flowers.

Although they do still have some nice-looking flowers.

Senicio talinoides ssp azoides

Senicio talinoides ssp azoides.

They’re not the only plants reaching for the sky. The always reliable Senicio shows off its architectural quality and interesting color.

Aeoniums, possibly canariense

Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’.

Speaking of succulents, aeoniums are happy here. This batch is a type called ‘Blushing Beauty’. They are easy to clone by snipping off a branch, hardening off the cut for a couple of days, and then rooting. It would be easy to have hundreds.

Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi'

Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’.

The brugmanisa is also expanding profusely. It currently is bearing a record number of its large flowers. (Bottlebrush in the background.)

Sacred Datura

Datura wrightii.

The Sacred Datura (a native) will have similar trumpet-shaped flowers (white ones). It seems to be getting established okay as undergrowth beneath the brugmansia.

I’ll stop there for today and post a few more tomorrow. For now let’s call it a (May) day with this splash of poppy:

Papaver glaucum.

Papaver glaucum.


Gruss an Aachen Rose

Grüss an Aachen Rose

Grüss an Aachen flower

It’s April, and the northeast is covered in snow. But here in the Bay Area a heat wave is starting up, with temperatures today projected to be in the 8os. And the roses are flowering! This one is a Grüss an Aachen.

It’s a floribunda (Latin for “many-flowering”) rose – at least, it is for all practical purposes, but rose enthusiasts like to quibble over classifications. Floribundas are a type of rose created by crossing hybrid teas with polyanthas. From the polyanthas floribunda roses take profuse flowers, while the teas provide them with interesting flower color and form.

Grüss an Aachen means “greetings to Aachen” in German. Aachen is a town in western Germany near the border with the Netherlands. Charlemagne had his court there, and it was a coronation site for later kings. It was the location of the gardens of rose breeder Philipp Geduldig, who introduced this one in 1909. Many sources consider it the original floribunda. But according to the Rose Society of South Australia, it should be seen more as a precursor to the floribundas:

Grüss an Aachen has interesting parents, namely the seed parent white Hybrid Perpetual Frau Karl Druschki and its pollen parent, the forgotten Hybrid Tea, Franz Deegan. However, Grüss an Aachen has never accurately fitted into the Hybrid Tea category. This rose bush resembles a neat shrub-like Floribunda and even though it predates the Floribunda class by decades, it is often classified as a Floribunda rose in modern reference books. Some experts regard Grüss an Aachen as “an early precursor of the popular David Austin English roses”, but regardless of the category or classification, this superb heritage rose has over a century of history and many devotees.

It’s a vigorous, compact, bushy rose. The foliage is deep green and a little leathery. Ours was severely damaged by deer but is recovering now that we have fenced off the whole back area. It’s a great rose for us because it does well in shady areas, and we have it naturalized in a part of the garden that receives shade from Victorian Boxes. (Nearby are salvias, penstemons, yarrow, and Shasta daisies, among others.) Online I read on some sites that it gets to two feet high, but ours is more than three feet and nearly as wide around.

The flowers are more or less flat, a bit more than three inches in diameter. The color of the flowers varies on the same plant from slightly apricot, salmon, or pink to nearly white. Sometimes it has some yellow undertones and reddish highlights. I think the color variation might be the result of changes in sunlight and temperature. (There is also a consistently pinker version sold as Pink Grüss an Aachen.) Whatever color they start as, they eventually fade to white. The flowers are sweetly fragrant, and they attract butterflies. The plant blooms profusely in the spring and then just slightly less profusely several times over the summer. This is the very beginning of its bloom season. The flowers pictured are the first this year.

I give it a little food once in a while, more or less alternating organic rose food with worm castings and crushed crab shell. It doesn’t need much. During our dry summer I give it a little drip watering. Beyond that it doesn’t require  much attention. I’ve never had problems with pests, other than deer. It’s a pretty tough rose. And a handsome one.

Gruss-an-Aachen rose


Bitters and health

bitters on desk

Bitters and tinctures on my desk

While we’re on the subject of bitters, it’s worth taking note of their health benefits, which include moderating blood sugar, improving digestion, and I think immortality–though I understand not all alternative health sites are 100 percent reliable, so I’m not certain about that last one.

Here are three sites on the topic that seem pretty good:

Andrew Weil: Why Bitter Is Better
“America is still probably the most sugar-philic and bitter-phobic culture the world has ever known…. But there is an appealing logic to consuming bitters for health….”

The Weston A Price Foundation: Bitters: the Revival of a Forgotten Flavor
“Many of the diseases riddling our modern culture—from indigestion and gastric reflux to metabolic disorders ranging from elevated cholesterol to type 2 diabetes—seem to all point back to the deficiency of bitterness in our diets….”

Jim McDonald: Blessed Bitters
“I am a firm believer in Bitter Deficiency Syndrome; a notion that posits that much of the health woes faced by modern folk has at its root a lack of bitter flavor in the diet; and that many of the digestive problems for which we see bitters as a “remedy” are actually symptoms of deficiency of this flavor….”

Delicious and good for you, with ingredients straight from the garden — how can you go wrong?

herbal bitters detail

Herbal Bitters Recipes

Tom's Herbal Bitters

A selection of Tom’s Herbal Bitters

For my next two batches of bitters I followed a base herbal bitters recipe from Mark Bitterman. He uses three bittering agents in his herbal bitters: I tsp gentian, 2 tsp quassia chips, 1 tbs hops, together with 2 tbs double strength simple syrup. He combines Everclear grain alcohol and botanical gin in the ratio of 4:1. No doubt it’s best to use the highest-quality herbal gin, but that stuff is pretty expensive, so I just used Rangpur Tanqueray, which seemed to work. To this base he simply combines fruit pieces and fresh herbs in fairly hefty quantities. I used basil and dried cherries in one and cilantro and lime in the other. These and other recipes can be found in his Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters & Amari: 500 Bitters 40 Amari 123 Recipes for Cocktails Food & Homemade Bitters (Andres McMeel, 2015).

I stopped infusing after 5 days. After that point the tannins start to dominate, and I didn’t want to lose the fresh herb and fruit flavors. I put the canning jars full of ingredients in a dark place and shook them several times a day. I strained the mixture through a gold coffee filter, and then through a funnel with a double layer of cheesecloth into two-ounce amber bottles with droppers. I chose the two-ounce bottles because I want to be able to carry some with me on airlines to give away. (I washed the bottles first with soap and water and then dried them as best I was able.)

Canning jars in which herbs and fruit chunks are infusing. (Dates of preparation are are on the lids, not shown.)

Canning jars in which herbs and fruit chunks are infusing. (Dates of preparation are are on the lids, not shown.)

Bitterman says that herbal bitters are especially good in cooking. A few drops of cherry bitters might be interesting with maple syrup buttermilk pancakes, I imagine. But I prefer them for savory cocktails using spirits like tequila, whisky, or gin. The cilantro lime bitters should work well with Mexican menus. The Bollard has some suggestions for tequila cocktails, and you can get some ideas from Yummly too. And there’s a Cherry Basil Collins recipe at Cocktail Puppy. Generally you have to be a little creative, since older recipes presume Angostura are the only bitters you can find (unless you’re in New Orleans and can get Peychaud’s). Now there are hundreds of commercials bitters as well as more people like me making their own.

Some ingredients for herbal bitters

Some ingredients for herbal bitters

Happily, my limes seem to have survived our stretch of frosts. I don’t grow cherries, and I used dried cherries from the supermarket. I bought the dried herbs I didn’t grow myself from Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley — highly recommended.

I make my labels with 2 x 4 in. Avery labels, using InDesign template 5163. I size the background image first in Photoshop. The font is Garamond Premier Pro, the same I used in 1616: The World in Motion; River of Ink: Literature, History, Art; and many other books.

The Bitter Gardener

citrus bitters

Bitters are handy in cocktails and cooking — or even to just flavor water for drinking. This is my first batch of bitters, and the result is satisfying.

Making your own bitters means you have control over the ingredients. Most of mine come from the garden and are organic. More on that in another post.

You have solvents, bittering agents, and flavoring agents. You can make separate tinctures and then combine, or just throw everything in a single canning jar and hope for the best (which was my approach for this batch of citrus bitters). Making separate tinctures gives better control (different ingredients infuse at different rates), although it might be that the flavors combine better when infused together.

My main solvents were Everclear grain alcohol and  unfiltered semi-sweet sake (in a ration of about 2:1). I think next time I will try substituting mirin for the sake to get a result that is less cloudy.

My bittering agent was wormwood (the extremely bitter ingredient in absinthe). My flavors were lemon, bitter orange, lime, tangerine, cardamom, allspice, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, and anise seed.

You shake the jar every day for a week or so (most sites advise two weeks or more, but I feel Mark Bitterman — more on him in a moment — is right when he says a shorter time gives fresher, less tannic flavor. Then you strain, first through a gold coffee filter and then through cheesecloth, bottle, and label. Some people simmer the macerated ingredients and use the resulting water to cut the alchohol, but I see no advantage in that compared to cutting with a solvent with a lower ABV (in this case the sake).

I consulted many websites, but my main guides were Mark Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari and Will Budiaman’s Hardcrafted Bitters. I particularly like Bitterman.

new acquisitions

New Acquisitions

new acuisitions

At the Watershed Nursery in Point Richmond we picked up several California natives that we will be trying out in the garden. We also got a few nonnative plants from the nearby Annie’s Annuals. Stay tuned for updates on how these do. Here the new plants — in the black containers — are in an area near the house that gets the most attention. (The large ceramic containers contain three kinds of figs.) The new plants (nonnatives marked with asterisks) include:

Artemisia douglasiana (Mugwort)
Asclepius cancellata (Wild Cotton) *
Atriplex leucophylla (Beach Salt Bush)
Camissonia cheiranthifolia (Beach Primrose)
Cunonia capensis (Butterknife Tree) *
Datura wrightii (Sacred Datura)
Fraxinus latifoloa (Oregon Ash)
Malva assurgentiflora (Island Mallow)
Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky Monkeyflower)
Monardella villosa (Coyote Mint)
Plantago subnuda (Tall Coastal Plaintain)
Ramnus California (California Coffeeberry)
Salvia melliflora (Black Sage)
Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage)
Sambucus nigra (Blue Elderberry)
Scrophularia california (California Bee Plant)
Stipa pulchra (Purple Needlegrass)
Tanecetum parthenium aureum (Golden Feverfew) *

The Watershed Nursery, a cool place specializing in California Native Plants (reasonably priced), is located near the intersection of 580 and Richmond Parkway:

Watershed Nursery, Point Richmond, California

flummoxed deer

Bambi Flummoxed

bambi flummoxed

Okay, I got a little overconfident. We hadn’t had much deer damage in several days, and I needed to access the tomatoes. So I half opened up the cage I had put around them. That same night the deer ate all approximately 120 Sungold tomatoes, the damned gluttons. That was the last straw! (Also, the last tomato.) I constructed a seven-foot deer fence, which I had been putting off doing because of the difficult length and slope of the property. (This version of the fence is still a little improvisational, and soon eventually I will do a more attractive version.)

Now I have the enormous satisfaction of watching the wildlife down in the back forty, knowing that they are not getting into the garden.

Physical barriers are the only way to control deer. Forget all the other supposed solutions.

Mr. Greenjeans and friends

Friday Harvest

Links for August 28. “Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil

Early Girl tomatoes

Early Girls

Early Girl tomatoes

Early Girl tomatoes, August 2015

Early Girls are the best performing, most reliable, and best tasting tomatoes I have grown in my current garden. This is a red saladette tomato with smallish fruit that is sweet and tangy. It always bears well for me, which is no small feat in my region.

Pam Peirce (Golden Gate Gardening) recommends ‘Oregon Spring’ and ‘Stupice’ for our area, with its cool (though irregularly so) dry summers. I haven’t tried ‘Oregon Spring,’ but for me ‘Early Girl’ has consistently outperformed ‘Stupice.’

I give mine a little crab meal and worm castings.

Last year we didn’t get any tomatoes at all, because the deer ate the plants down to the ground. This year I put wire fencing around the plants, to the deer’s frustration and my delight. I have learned that physical barriers are the only thing that stop deer — don’t waste your time and money on any other efforts.

tomatoes in deer fence

Early Girl tomatoes inside a deer fence

Kitten Habitat


Dormeuse, amas doré d’ombres et d’abandons … — Paul Valéry
(The sleeper, a golden mass of shadows and abandonments …)

Thanks to the neighborhood cat lady, we have an abundance of more or less free-range felines in our area. One found a cozy place to nap in the Norfolk Pine container (which probably had a nice layer of compost on top). The catnapper was soon joined by a more vigilant sibling.

In the front left is Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Meyeri’ (foxtail asparagus fern). At the right is a handsome speciment of Stipa arundinacea (New Zealand Wind Grass), which does marvelously well in this area, even during the drought. (I recently saw quite a few of these planted along the bay walk in Pacific Grove near Monterey.) Along the fence is true jasmine, and behind the Norfolk Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) in another container is Iochroma coccinea, with its tubular orange flowers.

plant hospital

Changes . . .

When I began this site in 2006 I was interested in documenting some aspects of the San Francisco Bay Area. I had looked at a few printed guidebooks and online sites and found several of the comments and recommendations about the region ludicrous. My main site was, and I decided to make it a little more tightly focused on book publishing. Working in the city and living in the East Bay, it seemed reasonable to spin off regional content into a new site. To shake up stodgy locals I called it Frisco Vista (there is a lot of groupthink in the Bay Area, and most residents would rather be caught worshipping at an altar to Satan than uttering the word Frisco).

For the past several years I have been too absorbed in print projects to give much time to webwork. Besides that, I’m no longer motivated to maintain a broad regional site (as is obvious from a glance at the post dates — an attentive reader might also notice an increasing emphasis on garden themes). I no longer work in the city, and I now spend a lot of time maintaining my garden.

As I also have an interest in photography,  I’m fairly often inspired to photograph some of the garden, and I thought of starting a tumblr devoted to that. Instead, I’ve decided to rework Frisco Vista into Tom’s Garden (unless I can think of a better name). At least for now, I’ll retain the FV domain, but I’ve already begun to change the appearance and structure of the site radically.

Formerly the site looked like this:

old frisco vista blog

Since the site has been in deep hibernation, I’m not going to take it down and work offline but instead will make the changes bit by bit as live updates. (I’m also back adding some posts replicating content from my Facebook account.) Maybe someone will be interested enough to stay tuned and see how things evolve . . .

Papaver Glaucum

papaver glaucumAfter a hiatus of at least two or three years, these “tulip poppies” decided to pop back up in the garden, looking better than ever. In the second shot you can see some Maltese Cross in the background that have miraculously escaped the deer, along with some blue marguerites.

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.

groundhog at Slater Mill

Groundhog at Slater Mill

groundhog at Slater MillSlater Mill (shown below) in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the birthplace in America of both the Industrial Revolution and the American labor movement, thanks to a strike at the mill by its women workers. It’s also home to a couple of handsome groundhogs, including this one.

Slater Mill, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Citrus Burst Rose

Citrus Burst Rose

Citrus Burst RoseThe Citrus Burst rose is blooming profusely. And we had a brief moment of rain today. Not enough in our current drought, but we’ll take it.

This is a climbing rose that I have in a tomato cage for support. It’s a vigorous grower with dark green leaves and sort of striped pick and yellow flowers. It’s a repeat bloomer. So far it has required little maintenance.

retaining wall

Retaining Wall

retaining wall

Here you see a retaining wall in process near the crabapple tree. Because my lot is on a steep (but, fortunately, south-facing) hillside, I need to terrace extensively. I learned from travels in Inca country in Peru that multiple small terraces are better than a few larger ones (this is one of my biggest). It’s also important to try to reduce the weight the wall is trying to hold back, so my fill is redwood chip mulch. Finally, it’s essential to allow water to run through the wall rather than trying to hold it all back, so I don’t make the stones too tight fitting. This wall is made from broken-up slabs that used to surround the swimming pool before we made it into a garden.



Star Jasmine

The jasmine is blooming profusely. It grows over our front fence near the gate to the backyard. The flowers are very fragrant. The plant is native to East and Southeast Asia but does quite well here and needs little maintenance, except for occasional cutting back when it gets out of control.


Charles Grimaldi Brugmansia


The brugmansia has grown up quite tall, struggling to reach the light amid the surrounding trees. The ladder, placed there for pruning, gives a sense of scale. The large yellow flowers (called Angel’s Trumpets) are fragrant in the evening. This variety is called Charles Grimaldi, named, I think, for the grower, though the name always reminds me of the famous Victorian clown Joseph Grimaldi (he’s the reason circus clowns were called “Joeys”). This is said to be one of the best varieties of brugmansia around. My plant suffered setbacks from a few of our rare frosts when it was young, but it survived and has recovered nicely. This year I’ve started feeding it with tomato fertilizer, hoping to promote more foliage and flowering. We’ll see how that goes.

All parts of the brugmansia are poisonous. It’s related to datura — both are in the family Solanaceae — but is not exactly the same plant. Most daturas require more sun and less water than brugmansia, though there is a lot of variation among them. In the western U.S., some are known as “jimson weed.” Brugmansias tend to be woodier and taller — they are sometimes called “tree daturas.” You can read more about the difference here.

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