Friday, March 20, 2020

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula
By Jan Boone

I recently had the opportunity to spend free time on the San Francisco Peninsula in Palo Alto and surrounding areas by Stanford University. It reinforced the notion as gardeners, we should seek out, educate ourselves and be aware of plant materials and growing habitats outside our own high-altitude favorites. 

For the moment, I put aside the frequent battles with temperature variations, weather and short growing seasons to partake in new knowledge. Should you happen to be in the Bay Area, plot your course carefully, you’re apt to find anything from fun glass beads strung and hung from a garden pergola, peppers on the vine, bountiful pyracantha berries and even lush succulents or blooming annuals happily nested in backyard containers. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ve discovered. Investigate older residential neighborhoods around the campus and you’ll notice there are special gems that one many innocently drive by, ignoring the benefits and beauty they contain for all.

Plants in a garden in the San Francisco Area

Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park
Off the beaten track in a residential area of Menlo Park and situated along the northern side of Sand Creek you’ll find a tasteful collection of older Spanish style buildings housing a restaurant, gift shop and gallery space. Stop and discover the surrounding special small pocket gardens with water features and seasonal annuals adding to the mix. Wander freely and you’ll enjoy seeing a garden of blues from hydrangeas to asters to Blue Nile Lilies; the garden of abundance in golds and their rich Rose Allee. All proceeds from sales here go to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.  
Fuchsia, Blue Hydragena from Allied Arts Guild

Allied Arts Guild Garden

Pollinator Garden at Corner of Embarcadero and Guinda Street in Palo Alto
Truly a unique space that is essentially a large traffic triangle. This garden received grant money from the Happy Hollow Foundation and together with neighborhood and city help, a miraculous transition began in 2018. Now complete, a brief stroll around this small garden contains signage about the native plants as well as pollinator info for those that stop by for a visit! Also, further east you will find a similar community supported traffic island garden at the intersection of Embarcadero on Primrose Way. This busy island divider focuses on CA native plants that appeal to pollinators, also signed with helpful information.

Elizabeth Gamble Garden further west on Embarcadero and Waverly Street in Palo Alto. 
The granddaughter of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble built the main house here in 1902. These gardens became public property in Palo Alto in 1985, supported by the Palo Alto Garden Club and local Master Gardeners. Together with corporate sponsors, they now have a non-profit dedicated to the ongoing care and upkeep of this historic residential property. You’ll miss this if you’re zipping along Embarcadero, but a stop is well worth the effort to enjoy their numerous special planting beds. These include a rose garden, kitchen garden, cutting garden, iris beds and shade garden to name a few. No admission required and a small free parking area is available on the north side of the property.

This is the case of saving the best for last. Hardly a small garden gem (at 600+ overall acres), but more in the nature of a true country estate situated at the SW edge of Woodside and just south of Crystal Springs reservoir off Hwy 280. Here you’ll find a cafĂ©, gift shop, the historic estate home with many connections to California history. There are 16 acres of formal gardens; a reclaimed orchard (originally supported by California rare fruit growers), and planting beds all highlighted by holly, laurel, yew and other woody trees and shrubs. It is striking to see the integration of older brick walls used in reclaiming some of the more traditional garden spaces. The restored garden beds vary as they reflect trends of horticulture materials and landscaping during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is all part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Besides the gardens mentioned above, don’t overlook the Botanical Gardens on the Stanford campus. Additionally, UC Agriculture Programs (including Master Gardeners) have experimental stations just west, over the coastal hills and south of Half Moon Bay. Call for reservation information before visiting. Wander west to Half Moon Bay along Hwy 92 from Hwy 280 and stop by the easily identified roadside orchid grower greenhouses here. (Tip … visit greenhouses on your way east, as Hwy 92 is only a two-lane road and extremely busy. A righthand turn onto Hwy 92 is much safer).  

Succulents in a San Francisco area garden
Enjoy the treasures you may find among the highlights mentioned above. There are so many possible destinations to visit in the Bay Area from Golden Gate Park to Berkeley’s UC Botanical Gardens. I hope focusing on this specific peninsula area will provide new experiences in your travels. Enjoy!
Small garden area

Friday, March 13, 2020

Cool Season Annuals for Mountain Gardens

Cool Season Annuals for Mountain Gardens
By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin CSU Extension

When I am scrolling through Instagram seeing lovely pictures of warm-season annuals like zinnias, Mexican sunflowers and tall annual sunflowers, I usually feel a longing to grow them too. I start thinking, “could I possibly grow them in my high elevation (8,400’) garden with cool night temperatures and short frost-free season?” Strategizing, “maybe I could start them early from seed and transplant them into a location with a warm microclimate” or “maybe I could grow them from seed in the garden and only save seed from the ones that do well in my garden-- if I do this selection for several years, I might have a variety that would work for me!” 

But in reality, for me, it makes much more sense to grow the things I can grow easily! I have the perfect garden for cool-season annuals! And if you garden in the mountains, you probably do too!

Following are just a few of the easiest cool-season annuals to grow:

Pansies, Viola x wittrockiana

My grandmother grew pansies in front of a stone retaining wall at her house in Telluride. She would let me pick an arm full of the cheery, fragrant blooms and put them in a cute glass frog vase.This photo is pansies in that vase.

Pansies, Viola x wittrockiana

In flower language, pansies are known for love, especially thoughts of love. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. They can be started from seed and set out in early spring, as soon as the snow melts. They can be planted out again in the late summer or fall. In my garden, I can usually just cut them back if they get leggy, and they will re-bloom.

For more about growing pansies and pansy varieties:

For info about very cold-hardy pansies check out the page for the CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden

Calendula, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

Calendula have cheery, large flowers that look similar to zinnias, but they only come in oranges and yellows. There are some recent selections that are more peachy-orange.  They are easy to start from seed, either as transplants or directly in the garden. Calendula should bloom the entire summer in a cool mountain garden. They also make a good cut flower.

Calendula, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

Like pansies, they are edible, hence, the common name pot marigold. However, they are not the same species as what we commonly refer to as ‘marigolds’, which are Tagetes spp. Calendula is also used in making homemade salves that sooth the skin. They say the best variety for this is ‘Resina.’  Calendula is the British floral emblem for the month of October. 

For information on how to make a skin salve from Calendula flowers go to this blog:

Poppies, Papaver spp.

My grandmother also planted a small orange poppy mixed with her pansies. I haven’t been able to definitely figure out which species it was, but it could have been alpine poppies, because they were pretty small plants. However, some Icelandic poppies are short too. I took this photo of self-seeded poppies growing in an alley garden in Silverton last summer.   

Poppies, Papaver spp.

Annual poppies, like Papaver nudicaule, Papaver alpinus, Papaver somnifera, and Papaver rhoes do best in cool summers and alkaline soil. Choosing from these species will give a range in size and color, from white, pink, purple, yellow, orange and red. You can sow seeds into loose garden soil in the fall, or start transplants to set out in early spring. If they are in a happy location, they will re-seed. Some poppies make edible seeds. In flower folklore, poppies have many magical meanings and uses. 

There are so many different varieties of poppies we can grow. I recommend you do an internet search! 

Sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus

WARNING: ornamental sweet peas are NOT edible!!! 

There are tall vining varieties as well as short varieties. They were so popular in the late 1800’s that breeders developed many colorful, large flowered varieties that sadly didn’t inherit the fragrance of their grandparents. Sweet peas with true sweet pea fragrance are still hard to find. Plant seeds in the early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Soak them overnight first to soften the hard seed coat. 

Sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus
Some varieties have longer stems that make good cut flowers. In the language of flowers, sweet peas mean “departure” or “adieu.” They are often considered the flower for April. 

Irene Shonle wrote a Colorado Mountain Gardener blog about sweet peas back in 2015.  To read it again, go here

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Holiday Flower Amaryllis
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Fantasica Amaryllis
I received two lovely pink and red Amaryllis bulbs for the holidays this year from my wife and daughter. I planted both bulbs immediately. Much to my surprise they both started growing shortly after planting. The pink one grew to six inches before it bloomed with four big beautiful blossoms. The red one grew to 14 inches and has four big red blossoms. They have been a joy.  

I have had Amaryllis before but none this large. I became curious and did a lot of research on the internet and this blog is a result of that research. Amaryllis plants are just a lot of fun and so beautiful. Some believe they are fast replacing the Poinsettia as the go to Holiday flower.

Native to Peru and South Africa, the genus Amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means "to sparkle." Bulbs were brought to Europe in the 1700s and have been known to bloom for up to 75 years. Today, most amaryllis are hybrids but are still classified in the genus Hippeastrum.

Amaryllis flowers range from four to ten inches in size, and can be either single or double in form. Amaryllis varieties include various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange. There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white.
Picotee Amaryllis

Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis are the easiest to bring to bloom, indoors or out, and over an extended period of time.
If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees F. 

Prepare the bulbs for planting by putting the base and roots of the bulb in lukewarm water for a few hours. Plant bulbs in a nutritious potting compost, many are available pre-mixed. Plant the bulb up to its neck in the potting compost, being careful to not damage the roots. Press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting.

Plant the bulb, or place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light since heat is necessary for the development of the stems. The ideal temperature is 68 to 70 degrees F. Water sparingly until the stem appears. As the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more. 
At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop when it has reached full height. Bulbs will flower in seven to ten weeks as a general rule. Mine blossomed in three to four weeks.

In winter the flowering time will be longer than in spring. Set up your planting schedule between October and April with this in mind. To achieve continuous bloom, plant at intervals of two weeks for stunning color in your home or garden.

After your amaryllis has stopped flowering, it can be made to flower again. Cut the old flowers from the stem, and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb. Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or for at least five to six months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow.

When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in early fall, cut the leaves back to about two inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil. Clean the bulb and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the refrigerator for a minimum of six to eight weeks. Caution: do not store amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples, this will sterilize the bulbs.

After six to eight weeks, remove bulbs and plant them. Plant bulbs eight weeks before you would like them to bloom.

I really like my bulbs and look forward to growing them again next year.
Red Pearl Amaryliss

Growing and caring for amaryllis | UMN Extension

Flower pictures courtesy of The University of Minnesota Extension