Agave rearranging, mega weeding achieved

Matt and I popped out to Potrero Hill on Saturday morning to meet Kris of Rhode Island Street who wanted to donate some tools to the gardens. We were delighted to get lots of good tools and some tree watering bags which will be super useful. Thanks Kris!

We headed to the garden and watered a few plants probably for the last time this year. Then we rearranged some of the Agaves behind the wrong way sign. That area has been a “pup farm” where we let small Agaves grow on. Now it’s time to make sense of it all. 

We made a group of five “Green Giants”, moved an Agave tequilana “Sunrise” and laid out six or seven Agave lophantha as well. We pulled out a few somewhat shriveled looking pups to grow on at home, and weeded a bit. 

And yesterday Tomas and co were back to do some weeding at PRG. They removed some big Agaves that had flowered and cleaned up the path – a whole day of work for two people that has made a huge difference.

Fennel plants were cut back, grasses tidied,  litter removed, tree branches and leaves cleaned up, and the whole place just looks 1000% better.

Thanks to Josh and Tomas for making it happen.

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False pretenses

I lured Josh to the October workday by saying we were planting new plants. On the day as we loaded the truck I realized we didn’t actually have plants ready to go in the ground this week but it was too late to tell Josh to stay home. Haha. That would never happen 😉

Despite this he was his always cheerful self, and along with Matt, Chris, Bill and Hilary we worked away in the warm sun and got a few fun tasks done.

Bill turned the compost – emptying one bin completely and almost another, and getting several trugs of compost out which was spread around where needed. It’s a really solid workout doing that, and I so appreciate anyone who turns compost. Rock on Bill!

Hilary cut back Salvia leucanthas. When the rains come they will spring back into action looking superb, so it was great to get that done at just the right time. Will we get some rain soon? Forecast says it’s a definite maybe…

All those salvias went into the compost heap, and we also filled 7 paper bags for 311 to pick up – all the non compostable sticks and other things that take forever to break down in our bins go in those bags, and get composted elsewhere.

Chris removed a santolina that was past it’s sell by date, and also the Dasylirion wheeleri in the middle back bed which had sadly rotted out after flowering. He replaced that plant with a good sized Agave weberi “Arizona Star” that was at the bottom of the steps and really too big for that spot – great swap!

Then what to put in the spot at the bottom of the steps? Well, a cactus that was there had been struggling due to a bramble crushing it. Chris and Josh removed and replanted the cactus, and gave the bramble a haircut.

Matt deadheaded a lot of Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears) and watered the plants that needed it. And I cut back a Phlomis.  I must have done more than just that, but somehow I can’t recall!

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Let's see that yucca!

Matt and I headed to the gardens last weekend to water one or two thirsty plants. We decided it was time to plant three 3 gallon sized Yucca rostrata plants we have been holding onto, as they will probably do well without too much help until the rains start.

We decided to plant them with the other three Yucca rostrata we have at PRG – one large 4′ tall Yucca rostrata “Blue Velvet” that we planted back in February 2013 when PRG was first built, and two Yucca rostrata “Blue Velvet” that are about 2′ tall, planted in January 2019.

Surprisingly the ones we had planted in the past were doing well, despite the fact that a big tree mallow (Lavatera maritima) was completely shading them and dumping lots of leaves and spent flowers into their crowns. So it had to GO! Out came the saws and pruners and pretty quickly the shrub was cut back to a more manageable size.

We moved one of the medium sized yuccas to one side, and added the smaller new ones around that area to make a nice group. They’re slow growing but one day this will look lovely.

We put in a 311 green waste pickup request and tidied up – hop the city can remove the branches ASAP.

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Plant Profile: Yucca filifera

Latin name: Yucca filifera (“YOU-kah fill-IFF-er-ah”)
Common name: Mexican Tree Yucca, Palma China, Chinese palm
Originally from: Chihuahua desert in North-Eastern Mexico.
Blooms: An unusual 5′ long weeping panicle of white bell-like flowers pollinated by moths and butterflies.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough – hates waterlogged roots.
Height x width: 25′ x 8′
Zones: 7b to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: We have three at the top of at PG and half a dozen in two groups down at PRG.

Yucca filifera was discovered in the 1840’s in North-Eastern Mexico by explorer Josiah Gregg. It was introduced to Europe in the 1870’s. I hadn’t seen these for sale until last year at Flora Grubb gardens, where I immediately pounced on one to try it out.

Since then I have bought or been given about 10 more, because they are so incredibly tough, architectural and easy to grow. Deer resistant? Allegedly. Human resistant? For sure!

A common plant in North-Eastern Mexico, and in Mexico as a whole, it is found at altitudes of 1400-7800′, in areas with an annual rainfall of around 11-24″. Yucca filifera grows in a huge variety of environments, and can be seen in huge forests at the foot of mountains in deep soils, in desert-scrub, grassland, thorn-scrub and occasionally in oak or pinyon-juniper woodland.

With rigid, narrow leaves, 1.5″ wide and 18″ long arranged around the trunk, the plant looks like Yucca aloifolia except with thin white threadlike leaf margins: the name filifera is from Latin ‘filim’ meaning thread; and ‘fera’ meaning carrying.

Yucca filifera is a tall branching evergreen tree that, in 20-50 years, can reach 25-40′ tall with a spread of 8-15′. The trunk usually branches at around 10-14′ and can develop a massive and wide base when old. They only seem to be available in a 5 gallon single stemmed size at retail and wholesalers, though I have tried to get larger ones – no luck.

As with many tough and common plants, they have a lot of uses. Indigenous people used the leaves of Yucca filifera as a roof covering and as a source of fiber for handcrafting. The flowers, fruit and stem can be eaten raw or cooked and the flower spike cooked and eaten like asparagus. Yucca filifera can also be dried and crushed for use as a flavoring, though I’ve no idea what it would taste like.

The root contains saponins which are not toxic, but they are difficult for the human body to digest. Plants containing saponins can be crushed in water to create a foam so were often used for cleaning.

Saponins in general have a number of potential, modern day medicinal applications as they are found to exhibit anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and have antibacterial effects. They are thought to help reduce cholesterol levels, kill bacteria, and inhibit tumor growth.

On the whole this is a super xeric garden plant and I highly recommend it.


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It's a great time to plant agaves

Summer has given way to fall, but if you’ve lived in the Bay area for long you’ll know now is the driest time of year. The gardens are parched and the ground is dusty dry, and we have watered a few plants (new tree Aloes, and a palm we planted) but some plants love the heat. Agave is one genus that thinks the hotter the better!

We did have some weird weather recently that some agaves didn’t love though. A hot dry spell, followed by foggy, smoke-laden air, leads to some agaves ending up with edema scarring. 

These mottled marks on some leaves are caused by water being pulled up to the leaves during hot weather, but stopping in its tracks when cool, humid weather hits. The cells loaded with water then burst and scar the leaves. Unfortunate, but the plants will eventually grow new leaves.

We had a lovely September volunteer day, with Chris, Josh, Matt, Hilary, John and Andrea generating 18 bags of green waste for recycling! We got lots of plants cut back (the cardoon, salvias, euphorbias and so on) and turned and watered the compost.

We also planted some great agaves that Matt and I have been growing. Josh put in three Agave maximiliana… or they might be Agave zebra. Except both of these species are supposed to be solitary and this one pups like mad…We will just have to wait and see what they turn into.

Josh also planted a group of seven Agave desmettiana variegates behind the wrong way sign. That area has become a huge farm for baby agaves but we hope to reorganize the plants, put them in groups, and make something pretty out of it all soon.

Matt and I visited with the famous Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Gardens the following week, and had a blast weeding his pots of hybrid Agaves, Aloes and Gasterias while talking about all the cool plants he has grown and known. 

 In exchange he gave us some lovely plants for the garden, including three Aloe polyphylla hybrids which we planted right away on the lower pathway where they will hopefully thrive. Matt added five more Agave desmettiana variegates in that area too, as well as a few on the way to the tool trunk.

A week later Matt and I were back at the garden, planting yet more Agaves we have been growing on at home. We did two groups of Agave gypsophylla up in the top area of PG, and a group of three Yucca aloifolia “Magenta Magic” down at PRG.

It’s great to get some plants out of our home garden and into the public gardens – it can take years to grow something big enough to plant out in a street park (small plants tend to get stolen, or crushed) and I feel now that 3-5 gallons is the minimum if possible.

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2 workdays, no mention?

We had our June workday and I didn’t take any photos! What’s wrong with me? Don’t answer that. We did get a lot done: compost got turned by John, loads of Chasmanthe and Euphorbia characias got cut back, and mountains of weeds removed from their smug little lives by Chris, Matt and John’s friend whose name I forgot (sorry!)

Jon and Joe have been weeding away like crazy in between workdays too, and cleaned up the kiosk area beautifully as well.  Check it out!

We also watered a bit – the garden is dry as can be which is usual for this time of year, but even the tough plants look a bit tired in summer.

Last week Matt and I popped out to water a couple of plants as well. We bumped into Chris who was there mulching his Agave bed – the area behind the wrong way sign.  He’s been BUSY cleaning that area up and it looks outstanding. We use it as a “pup farm” for baby Agaves to grow on and they have been doing really well so it’s time to rearrange them, maybe add some ground cover.

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The Chasmathe are DONE!

Matt and I spent a couple hours weeding at the garden today. We turned two compost bins and watered them (after removing a huge amount of trash from one bin) and while Matt watered other already parched looking plants, I tied back the Phlomis at the steps and then cut back a lot of Chasmanthe.

I love Chasmanthe in later winter – fresh green leaves, orange flowers – what a great sight at the coldest time of the year. But right about now they are done flowering and their leaves turn yellow and crash. So they get cut to the ground – all 20 clumps of them… I managed about 4 clumps today.

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Plant Profile: Cistus purpureus (Orchid Rockrose)

Latin name: Cistus purpureus (“SISS-tuss purr-purr-EEE-uss”)
Common name: Orchid Rock Rose
Originally from: throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal through to the Middle East, and also on the Canary Islands.
Blooms: Bright magenta flowers 3″ across blanket the plant in spring and summer
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4′ x 6′
Zones: 8-11
Where to find in P. Garden: Three at the top of PG

A tidy, compact, sun and heat-loving evergreen shrub. In spring it’s covered in outrageous 3″ wide rose-purple blooms with maroon spots and a gold center. Tolerates drought, poor soil, and total neglect, and the leaves have an interesting resinous scent. Yep, you need a rockrose in your life!

This is the best rockrose for seaside conditions as it doesn’t care about salt spray, wind and sandy soil. It is also one of the hardiest of rockroses, tolerating temperatures down to around 15 degrees F.

This plant is an old garden hybrid between Cistus ladanifer and C. creticus. Listed in 1819 in Syndenham Edward’s Garden Register of exotic plants cultivated in British Gardens, the author wrote that it was universally known at the time as Cistus creticus “from which however it has been well distinguished by the industrious and sagacious Chevalier de Lamarck in his excellent Encyclopaedia Botanique.”

I am sure the sagacious Chevalier would also tell you that you can cut it back as you like, and it forms a nice solid screening plant mixed with other Mediterranean climate plants. Stems often layer at ground level and root, and I would expect they’re pretty easy to start from cuttings, though I haven’t tried.

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Sun and showers and tree felling

“April showers bring May flowers” as the saying goes. But May showers? They bring weeds, m’kay? Anyway, weeding is the Ultimate Pandemic Activity IMO: a) you’re socially distanced b) outdoors c) wearing gloves anyway and c) talk about cathartic – ripping out weeds will really let out any anger you might have!

With that in mind, Matt and I went out to PG to weed a bit. And there we found Joe who was watering his little area by the bench. He and Jon refinished the bench, made the signs and solar lights and have been refilling the bird feeders to boot. I propose a Garden Volunteer Award 2020 for each of them!

I cleared the path from the top of the steps to the top of the garden – about 3 giant tubtrugs of weeds to the composter. Matt was doing something but I have no idea what.

And today, Chris emailed to show me that the final dead Monterey pine has been removed! Where were those logs falling? Into the garden? I have no idea.  But it’s (almost, probably, mostly) gone! So I’m happy!

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Still volunteering, but not together

We decided not to have the workday last weekend, as social distancing is still in effect, However, I went to he garden to weed on Sunday and was delighted to see Jon there with his doggo.

To my surprise and delight, Jon and his friend whose name escapes me (sorry!) have REFINISHED THE BENCH. And also printed up and laminated some great signs and added some solar lights at the garden and refilled the bird feeders and… I don’t know what to say!

I was so thrilled by this. Jon you are a lovely man. Thank you.

I set about weeding happily at the steps, and in an hour they are really looking good. Yes, it’s just about impossible to find a plant that wants to act a a weed-suppressing ground cover there – I have tried so many things. But for right now that look good. I do need to find a way to tie back the unruly Phlomis purpurea that’s flowering away there and leaning into the path there. but I don’t feel too mad at them.

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