Gardening where the sidewalk ends

San Francisco Street Plantings November 30, 2008

Part of our recent vacation to the Bay Area of California was spent in our old stomping grounds of San Francisco. We lived there from 1992-2000 in a never-quite-gentrified part of the city that was equal parts noisy, diverse, crazy and wonderful. We are lucky to have family members who live just a few blocks from our old apartment, so when we come to visit, it feels like coming home. Surprisingly little has changed in the past eight years, and the grocery store folks even remember us!

We were only there for about 48 hours this trip, much of it spent shopping for Thanksgiving fixings and then making the various dishes we were bringing to the feast (two kinds of stuffing, a sweet potato puree with pecan/brown sugar crust, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin ravioli in sage butter sauce for the vegetarians), but I tried to take a few photos of street gardens in the neighborhood. There aren’t really parking strips, at least not in that part of SF, so trees and any other greenery are forced to live in small containers or other gaps in the concrete. This row of trees in small, square planter boxes was installed by the builders of a spiffy condo complex a few years ago:

San Francisco street trees

I’m sorry not to know the tree variety. Any guesses? They have been nicely underplanted with succulents:

Box o' succulents

Further down the same short block is a thriving bottle brush (Callistemon), in full bloom here in the last days of November:

Bottle brush tree

That tree really says California to me (even though technically it’s from Australia), as does this one, Angel’s trumpets or brugmansia, located directly across the street:

Trumpet flower tree

There were Bougainvillea vines in full bloom everywhere in the city right now – I didn’t get a good shot of any but a purple one is visible peeking out from under the spectacular tree in this next shot (I should know what the tree is but have forgotten – again, any guesses?):

SF streetscape

I love that their pumpkins are still out and spiffy – ours all had to be dumped due to gigantic black rotten spots and/or squirrel destruction. The only wildlife we saw on the street was pigeons, and I guess they are not interested in eating squash.

Ah, SF… we love and miss you, but it was good to come home to Seattle too.


Back from Cali November 29, 2008

Filed under: digressions — greenwalks @ 3:29 pm
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We had a great trip to the Bay Area, got back late last night. Saw a lot of friends and family, soaked up some sun, and I even managed to take a few photos of street gardens and other vaguely blog-related stuff. Today is all about unpacking, laundry, sorting a huge pile of mail, cleaning out the fridge (yuck!), and other returning-home boringness, though, so a real post will have to wait until tomorrow.

Hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving had a great one, and I look forward to catching up on all of your blogs in the coming days.

Pies pies pies


Trip-a-dee-doo-dah November 20, 2008

Filed under: my garden — greenwalks @ 2:19 pm
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Weather forecast for the near future in Seattle: highs in the upper 40s, good chance of showers/rain. Forecast for Palo Alto, CA: highs in the mid- to high 60s, very little chance of rain. Hmmm, where would you rather be?

We’re heading to warmer climes to see family and friends for Thanksgiving. Although I have ambitions to put up a few blog posts from there, in all likelihood I will be too busy chasing the munchkin and prepping sweet potatoes, going for walks and visiting my old stomping grounds, San Francisco.

I wish all of you a wonderful holiday full of good food and good company. See you in about a week!

– Karen

Viburnum x bodnantense in fall

(Viburnum x bodnantense, with about-to-drop fall foliage and budding flowers that will soon be sweetening the air in my garden.)


Late Bloomers November 19, 2008

Filed under: flora — greenwalks @ 10:26 am

This has been a really weird weather year here in Seattle. We had a super wet August, dry October, and now it has been mild and not really getting down to freezing at night much. Some flowering plants died back a while ago, but others are still going strong, what seems like much later than usual.

We had parent/teacher conferences the other day. I had seen a photo of the Obamas heading in to their own school conference and noticed that Michelle was carrying a lovely bouquet of roses, presumably for the teacher. That gave me an idea, since we love our daughter’s teacher, to get together some stuff for a thank-you basket.

I don’t have more than a few Martha genes in my body, but somehow they came to the surface in this case. I found a basket, a new cloth “fall” napkin, then started tossing stuff in (silly cat playing cards, pears and apples from my folks’, cranberry curd, licorice caramels – sounds weird but they are TO DIE FOR – votive candle with pretty holder, etc).

Teacher appreciation basket

Then I went out to see what was in the garden for a little bouquet. I don’t usually pick too many flowers, even in summer, since I prefer to have them out there for all to enjoy. But nearly everything is going to fall prey to frost eventually, so it doesn’t matter. Most came from the parking strip, and it was fun to see all those colors still hanging in there this late in the season (late November)!

November?! bouquet

Bachelor’s buttons (volunteers for the past few years), fennel, wallflower, tangerine sage, sweet alyssum, trailing rosemary, calendula, even a poppy!

Teachers are some of the hardest working and most important people in the world, and in my opinion they should be paid double (or more) what they are, considering how vital their role is in shaping the future of the world. I had a terrible, mean teacher for kindergarten and it made me hate school – I feel so fortunate that my daughter is getting a better start, with someone who is kind and caring. I hope her teacher likes flowers, because she’s going to be getting a lot from us!


Planting Peonies November 18, 2008

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 11:00 am
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I lied just a little bit when I said I’d finished planting all of the bulbs I got at the Arboretum sale. Well, I didn’t lie, really – I DID plant all the bulbs. It was just the corms that got the shaft. I had two daylies still languishing in their brown bags with no idea where to put them (I already have way too many daylilies, so why did I buy more??!), but it was the $9 peony that I really wanted to get into the ground before it was too late. Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re supposed to be planted in September or October to establish well before winter truly hits. But it’s been such a mild autumn here in Seattle that I am hoping to get away with it.

My great-aunts, fabulously industrious gardeners, had several varieties of gorgeous peonies that my mom inherited when the family farm was sold. They are still blooming strongly in her garden – those things must be 50 years old or more! I love their showy blooms and delicate fragrance, and the way the bumblebees just get their party on and roll around in the pollen.

I was super careful about ripping the tag with the peony’s name off the bag so I could post it here. Somehow, it didn’t make it indoors with me, so I apologize, it will remain a mystery. Haphazard gardening is my stock in trade, apparently. It’s kind of fun in a way to be so disorganized sometimes – I get to be surprised about what comes up in the spring! Honestly, there was no picture, so I don’t even know what color it will be. How’s that for lame?

I followed the planting instructions on the bag, making a 12″ X 12″ hole, filling it with mulch, mixing in fertilizer (probably the wrong kind, hope that didn’t matter too much), adding back some dirt, and propping up the corm. It was a little dried-out looking, hope it’s okay. It was showing a few little signs of life, so I guess I’ll just see what happens, if anything, in the spring.

Dry-lookin peony corm

Then I filled the hole with water, waited it for it to drain, and covered it all up with the rest of the dirt and a mulch layer on top.

While I was at it, I remembered that we have a previous-owner-installed peony plant that was poorly sited and had not bloomed once in the four summers we’ve been here. So, since I was in hole-digging mode, I decided to dig it up and find it another home. Boy, was I surprised by the size of the corm cluster – it was more like a tree stump!

Gigantic peony corm cluster

Man, that thing probably hadn’t been divided for a decade. No wonder it wasn’t blooming! Of course the smart thing to do would have been to put down the shovel, take off my gloves, go into the house, get out the gardening primers and read up on how best to divide peony corms. But did I? Nah. I just used the spade to hack it into pieces, tossed out the ones without eyes, and planted the rest around the backyard. More haphazard gardening! Don’t these look kinda scary? I think maybe I have a weird phobia about roots, at least a little bit. Ditto spiders.

Divided peonies

All that freshly dug dirt and smoothly layered mulch is probably going to be a magnet for you-know-who – even if he’s not after the peonies, I’ll have to replant them if he digs them up looking for tastier morsels, so I finished it all off with some squirts of witches’ brew and a dash of paprika.

Mulched and paprika'ed ground

The brew isn’t too stinky, but I’m playing it safe and keeping it outside, just in case it decides to ferment and explode…

I realize this post was heavy on the dirt/root pics, so to see lots of pretty photos of peonies in bloom, click here.

Anyone want to fess up to planting things a little on the late side this year? Or are you all patting yourselves on the back right now for being more timely and assiduous than I? If I helped you feel better either way, I’m glad. 🙂

Peony planting supplies


Hunting Maple November 17, 2008

The tree that’s been on my must-have list for the longest time is a Japanese maple, or acer palmatum. I need to find the perfect home for one, or maybe a couple, and care for the tree(s) well enough so that they will survive. I have been afraid of the virus they can fall prey to (verticillium wilt), plus it’s just so hard to decide which one(s) to get. Should it be ‘Sango-kaku,’ with its brilliant yellow leaves and dramatic red bark? Or a red-purple ‘Rubrum’? Or how about ‘Linearilobum,’ with its finger-like leaves and multi-hued fall glory?

In Japanese culture, “Momiji-gari” or hunting/viewing maple trees is a tradition almost as revered as the springtime ritual of traveling to view cherry blossoms. This site, Way of Maple, promotes the aestetic prunining and enjoyment of the species, and provides a translation of one of the many Japanese poems celebrating the tree:

By the wind storm’s blast
From Mimuro’s mountain slopes
Maple’s leaves are torn,
Which turn Tatsuta River
Into a rich brocade.

-Monk Noin

Japanese maples are popular in Seattle, so I decided to go on my own little “maple hunt” one day last week and see how many I could find, especially in the parking strips of my neighborhood. Turns out there were a lot! I will share some with you below, and save a few for another time, perhaps when the leaves are all gone and we need a few bright colors to get us through the winter blahs.

Turning maple

Fiery maples

Maple sky

Tricolor maple II

Maple branches

Scarlet maple II

Maple leaf carpet


Hideous Hack Job November 16, 2008

The little family and I took a quick trip up to Bainbridge Island on Tuesday, since nobody had to go to school or work that day. We missed a bunch of ferries in the morning due to general chaos and inability to get out of the house, and needed to get back on the early side, so only ended up with a few hours to spend actually on the island.

Bainbridge is a 35 minute ferry trip (once you’re actually on the ferry – you can spend at least that long, as we did, waiting in line to board, but that can be kind of relaxing if you don’t get too steamed for having arrived just as the previous boat was pulling away from the dock) from Seattle, and many of its inhabitants make the daily round-trip from the island to work in the city. It still contains many wooded areas and one of the area’s most famous botanical gardens, the Bloedel Reserve. I had a feeling we wouldn’t have time to visit BLoedel this trip, and it requires a reservation in any case, so it will have to wait for another time.

Instead we spent most of our time at the island’s tiny but fun Kids’ Discovery Museum, which had an exhibit based on the “Arthur” children’s book series, plus a table full of craft supplies for making hand-tracing turkey pictures. What five year old could resist that?

There aren’t a whole lot of parking strips on Bainbridge, but I was kind of excited to see one as we were leaving the museum.

Pruning hack job IV

Then I got a little closer, and saw what has got to be the absolute worst pruning hack job I have ever witnessed.

Pruning hack job III

Ouch. But wait, there’s more! Take that, red twig dogwood:

Pruning hack job I

And that, royal purple smoke bush!

Pruning hack job II

It was truly painful to see. Not sure if the diner these were in front of requested the horrible pruning work in order to be more visible, you’d think their neon-blue paint job would do the trick. In any case, there should be a law against such plant-deforming atrocities! I wonder if any of them will even survive? I’m not the most expert pruner, but I’ve never done anything that ugly. Oh, the horror, the horror!

On an unrelated note, the Blackbird Bakery is a must-visit stop if you ever end up on Bainbridge. It’s right on the main street, Winslow Way, makes fabulous soups and incredible baked goods, and if you get a seat in the window you can learn a lot about island life. My daughter insisted on getting an elaborately decorated cookie which looked a lot like a certain garden nemesis of mine…

Squirrel cookie

Yes dear, of course it’s fine to bite the head off first!


Sidewalk Scene November 15, 2008

Filed under: neighborhood gardens,trees — greenwalks @ 11:05 am
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I’ve been frantically working (like a squirrel in late autumn? Hm, maybe Dr. Destructo and I have more in common than I thought!) on a couple of bigger posts but nothing is quite ready to put up yet. Today is busy, no time to write, so all I have to offer is this photo from a recent walk.

Maple leaves on fence

I hope this weekend brings you time to commune with your garden, or at least a moment to think about it and plan for next year!


Bulb Post, Part III November 14, 2008

Yesterday’s post probably had some of you calling my sanity into question. I won’t argue with you there, I did feel sort of like a madwoman cooking up that hideous concoction to squirrel-proof my bulb plantings… but it was fun. And it didn’t even smell that bad! Just like salsa soup or something.

So, after I was done loading up (and half-melting) the spray bottle, it was time to head out to the parking strip and put those babies in the ground! Another thing preventing me from doing so had been the weather, but I took the first sunny moment I had time and went for it. Bulb planting always takes longer than I think it will, so I had to allow for a few hours’ work, counting the potion-brewing.

La la la, line ’em up on the back porch and see what I got, because I always forget between when I buy them and when the poor things actually get planted.

Bulbs to plant

I lost the full list, but this is some of what I scribbled onto a now-muddy piece of paper when I was out there, so I could remember locations:

– Narcissus ‘Scarlet Royal’ (yellow with large orange cups)
– Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (white/orange double-flowering)
– Tulip ‘Fashion’ (rose with purple veins – Kaufmaniana)
– Tulip ‘Mona Lisa’ (yellow feathered with raspberry)
– Tulip ‘Palestrina’ (salmon with green feathering)

Oh man, I know there was a lot else. Some things that ended up in the upper garden include

– Muscari ‘Blue mixture’
– Narcissus ‘Little Gem’
– Bellevalia paradoxa (never grown this before, related to muscari)
– several varieties of species tulips – maybe I’ll find my other smudgy paper before spring and will update this if so… sorry!

My hands were too muddy to take pictures of the bulbs going into their new homes, but I did try to put them at the right depths, at least as well as memory served. I had thought I had some bulb fertilizer in the garage but it wasn’t where I expected it to be so I probably used it up last year. So, they’ll have to get what they can from my semi-poor soil and I hope it’s enough! This is definitely not a guide for how to give your bulbs the best start…

After they were all planted, it was time to squirrel-proof up a storm! I sprayed my goofy concoction over the planting site (these next pics are from the upper garden, under the witch hazel), sprinkled a little paprika on for good measure (word on the street is that they don’t like the smell of that either),

Paprika sprinkle on bulb zone

and now my garden smells like Hungarian goulash!

Just to be triple-sure, I covered up each site with some witch hazel or plum leaves. I hope the various methods didn’t cancel each other out, that would be so typical of my haphazard approach to gardening. I made sure a little paprika was sticking out past the leaves.

All covered up and protected

Thanks to the Arboretum volunteers for packing the bulbs in compostable paper bags, no plastic anywhere to be found. They all went straight into the yard waste toter.

Bulb bags in the yard waste

Now the waiting begins. I’ve been out once so far to “refresh” the spray, but doubt I’ll get to it more than maybe once or twice again. I can’t see going out there all winter, that’s just not my kind of gardening (the lazy kind!). So far so good, with nary a paw mark upon any of the leaf piles. Hm, I probably just jinxed it all. Damn.

So, Dr. Destructo, the gauntlet is tossed. Yeah buddy, I’m talkin’ to YOU.

Nemesis squirrel, Dr. Destructo


Protecting the Bulbs from Dr. Destructo November 13, 2008

Filed under: fauna,my garden — greenwalks @ 12:53 pm
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One of my (many) excuses for not getting my bulbs into the ground right away was that I had seen my un-favorite critter around a lot, Dr. Destructo the evil squirrel. Last year, he (or one of his buddies/relatives) systematically dug up and either made off with or at least gnawed upon and discarded pretty much every one of my bulbs. I had meant to research humane yet effective anti-pest methods but of course didn’t think of it again until the new bulbs were purchased and ready to be planted, and I didn’t want to let another year’s plantings go to waste if I could help it.

In a previous post, I implored my fellow gardeners to share their squirrel stories and suggest any useful remedies. Several, including fellow Seattelites the Shibaguyz, proposed chili pepper spray to keep the pesky varmints at bay. Lucky for me, a quick perusal of a few helpful gardening blogs produced several recipes for delightfully dastardly yet all-natural brews that I could make at home from stuff I already had lying around. I adapted this one from Green Gardenista.

Didn’t have any hot peppers handy, so I cobbled together a rather unusual array of ingredients and got the water boiling.

Bulb anti-squirrel potion ingredients

Apologies to Rick Bayless, I do love your salsas and hot sauces but some of these had gotten lost at the back of the fridge and may be a little past their prime. You don’t need any more publicity anyway, now that everyone knows that the new President and First Lady love going to your restaurants in Chicago…

So, I chopped up the onion, tossed it into the water, dumped in some hot sauce, salsa, and red pepper flakes. OK, it has to be said: “Boil, boil, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” I definitely felt very witchy doing this! Sorry, no eye of newt.

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble

Boiled it for 20 minutes as the recipe called for, then strained the bits out, very steamy kitchen at that point:

Steaming evil potion

Then came the part that I must have skimmed over: “let cool.” Oops, poured it in too soon and semi-melted the spray bottle:

Semi-melted spray bottle

It’s deformed but it still works. Duh! Probably released all sorts of evil chemicals that way, sorry bulbs. I ended up with kind of a lot. It’s supposed to be applied every five days – not sure I’m up for that amount of effort or even how long it will keep before it gets too nasty. Might have to try it a few times and then hope for the best. To be continued…

Evil potion extras