You Wanna See Something Really Scary?

You Wanna See Something Really Scary?

Usually, this is my favorite time of year in my garden. The big leaves are at their biggest and the trees and shrubs are having their fall growth spurt, and the garden is a bit closer to the jungle of my dreams. After a few rain storms have freshened things up and softened up the ground, this is a great time to go plant shopping and start fall planting, while you can still clearly see any bald spots before plants hide underground.

Ordinarily, every year the garden is a little better than the last. But this year my garden took several steps back with a terrible string of bad luck. It’s more bald spots than plants.
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A Quick Survey for Winter Interest

A Quick Survey for Winter Interest

Winter is nigh, at least for planting purposes. Seems I’m always playing catch up, thinking I have more time than I do. Reminds me of my annual holiday anticipation. Waiting and planning and imagining Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, and then suddenly, nothing left to do but ske-the-deck-daddle.

Thusly, I decided a wee survey for winter interest was in order, and I was happy to discover I have several plants ready to do any winter garden proud. (I love ADD: makes for such nice surprises every time I go into the garden.)

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Don’t worry, eat cauliflower

Don’t worry, eat cauliflower

First, let me apologize if I got a certain relentlessly cheery 1980s pop song stuck in your head with the blog title. I’ve been punished, it’s now stuck in mine.

There were two things that came across my field of vision recently that led me to this earworm. First, an article on NPR warned me that freaking out about getting stuck in traffic could kill you just as dead as more major life stressors, so stop it. I don’t really freak out about matters of traffic  (anymore), but I am guilty of overbooking, chronically running late, and getting all worked up with guilt and anxiety. Hey, did I mention I meant to post this yesterday? Ahem.

Just as I was worrying about worrying, I stumbled across a happy little factoid about cruciferous vegetables significantly reducing mortality rates. I googled here and there and didn’t find consensus on the math of cruciferous super powers , but it seems we can all agree on some degree of less-dying when we eat these tasty veggies. I may not have mastered the anxiety free brain, but I’m covered when it comes to gobbling up cauliflower and friends.
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Transplants and Hitchhikers Welcome Here

Transplants and Hitchhikers Welcome Here

I’ve been meaning to count plants that made the move with me to Flamingo Park, but trying to do so with camera in hand is always a mistake. I’ve gone on that fool’s errand at least two dozen times. Today, I put camera on counter and gathered paper in hand. On my way out, I did slip the camera back into my pocket; but I threatened myself good about counting first.

I quickly reached 105, not including multiples of the same plant. It was a good reminder of just how much of my previous garden had made the trek.

A lovely Calla Lily – came with the Alameda house when we bought it in 1980 – is still going strong. It’s had compost over the years, and nothing else.

Most transplants resulted from the deliberate actions of my trusty plant-digging brigade. (I can never say thank you enough.) And I’m happy to report that several hitched a ride on their very own. To wit: Datura wrightii, Echium pininana, and though I hesitate to mention for fear of jinxing—a sweet upstart of a Phormium I’d loved and lost. The parent went missing last winter, completely dead, I thought. So how does that work?

Oh boy, what I don’t know about gardening is a lot.

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I wish I’d planted that

I wish I’d planted that

The garden is feeling camera shy this week. It’s had a long dry summer and we are both really looking forward to some rain. I’m starting construction soon, finally replacing my chain link fence after years of masking the eyesore with plants. Since many of my plants took a beating this year anyway (due to many factors, spilt milk), it seemed like a good time to hit the pause button and get a proper backdrop in place. At this point I’m just coasting out the summer and looking forward to next season, in this case, spring, when the construction is done. In my fantasy garden “next season” is never two seasons away, waiting out the fall and winter in anticipation of spring, holding over with only the evergreens, so the garden isn’t completely asleep. It would be much more fun to approach winter with anticipation of a spectacular garden show. I have such envy every time I see winter trees and shrubs covered in fruit and berries, and realize the garden could still be unfolding all year round, festively decorated and inviting the birds to stop by.

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A Few Good Trees for Flamingo Park

A Few Good Trees for Flamingo Park

I’ve been studying trees for my new garden this week, and with so many worthy candidates, I’m giddy at the prospects. In my last garden, I got a bit carried away, adding some 25 trees in our 50 x 100 city lot. All in all, I loved those trees, but probably wouldn’t plant some of them again, mostly for aesthetic reasons. One Birch was too close to the patio. Or rather, we planted it before we considered a patio; if only we’d sited it a few feet farther out… But the birches did a superb job of screening us from the street, provided a shady westside garden, and their glowing white bark was nice in dead of winter. There were a few misses, e.g. Acer plantanoides ‘Drummondii’, aka Variegated Norway Maple, pretty, but reverted to green in a most ungainly manner in spite of our best efforts. The Albizia julibrissin, a gorgeous but a weak tree and so so so messy. (I hear that A. julibrissin ‘Chocolate Summer’ is smaller and more manageable. Hmmmm.)

Some earlier choices, though, were spot on, and they are still on the favorites list.

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Playing the name game and revealing a current plant obsession

Playing the name game and revealing a current plant obsession

If I said I planted a Bird of Paradise in my garden what image would come to mind? The plant shown below, Strelitzia reginae, with the beautiful orange bloom, aka Bird of Paradise?
Strelitzia reginae

 
Or maybe this, Strelitzia Nicolai (aka White Bird of Paradise) with it’s striking black and white flower?
Strelitzia Nicolai

 
Or maybe this, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly called Pride of Barbados, but also referred to as Red Bird of Paradise?
Caesalpinia pulcherrima

 
Based on the common names you’d be correct if you thought of any of those options, and more, and that’s why botanical names are so important. Common names can be misleading. On my personal blog, danger garden, I get comments from readers asking me to please refer to plants by their common names. Or as one person said “Eek gads woman, speak English…your cornucopia of flora elicitation is causing my acers to hurt” (Don’t you just love that? I really wish I could meet her in person). Whenever possible I try to include both names, although at times it simply is not possible. Sometimes there’s not a common name, and that’s okay. Botanical names are much more informative.
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Gardening Set in Stone

Gardening Set in Stone

Several years ago, I toyed with the idea of moving to New York City for work. A little house hunting revealed there were no places in my budget that came with even a little patch of soil to call my own. I remember standing out in the summer garden on an especially beautiful night, wondering how I could ever leave my dirt. And in the end, I couldn’t.

This spring I spent some time in Matera, a town in southern Italy originally built in 3rd century BC. Houses are caves carved from stone, streets and buildings atop more houses. The city was evacuated by the Italian government in the 1950s when malaria was rampant, and families lived in the caves alongside their animals, without sanitation.

In the 1980s, redevelopment began, making many of the caves livable again. The roads in this part of town, the Sassi, are mainly pedestrian only. I can’t even imagine how people move furniture or bring home groceries. Surely they must find an easier way than I did, when lugging my suitcase through the maze to my hotel when arriving my first evening.

It’s all terribly beautiful and incredibly humbling to stay in these rebuilt ancient structures. At the same time there are still many untouched structures, and it can be hard to tell from the outside which of the caves are places someone calls home.

vacant or occupied

One of my favorite signs of life was the presence of gardeners. With no ground to garden in, and no obvious convenient way to bring in big heavy bags of potting mix, mini gardens are tucked in wherever they will fit, in rooftops, rubble, and impossibly heavy containers that must have been there forever.

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