Category Archives: My Garden

What to do about Bamboo?

[Please note that I wrote this in 2004 as an article in the HPSO Bulletin.  A recent FB posting has prompted me to revive/revise and repost it here.]

My first significant relationship with a bamboo,15 years ago, (this was the summer of ’89 when we moved into our current home) was a fatal one.  Phyllostachys aurea, Golden Bamboo.  I had heard all of the usual stories, yards lost, asphalt heaved and cracked, good neighbors gone bad.  Our new house confronted me with several problems, that I knew would get worse if I put them off.  It was another example of a homeowner picking the wrong plant for a screen, or failing to take the precautions to contain it.  With my limited knowledge and biases I had no doubt about what I needed to do.  I got my shovel and chased every rhizome down.  I was thorough and a good hunter, none survived. Continue reading

Agave: ‘Sharkey’, Death and the Meaning of Life

It’s noon and Sharkey is dismembered.  Here’s how it happened:

‘Agave down! I repeat, Wind is up and Sharkey is down!’ (This was the Facebook post I made on Oct. 13 coming home after dark.)

Nothing terribly dramatic, Sharkey just succumbed to the wind, toppling to the east, guided by the fishing line into the adjacent Callistemon and Palm. More wind this afternoon and, of course, on its way tomorrow!  (This followed the next morning.)

Do you remember last nights storm? I was out for about an hour during commute with a neighbor trying to keep drains clear and the river of water out of our basement! Sharkey is now laying on our railing. Julie says that I’m like a pet owner denying the inevitable who thinks he’s getting better. I’m afraid he’s just a head knocker for pedestrians now! (I posted this this morning.) Continue reading

Growing Agave in My Maritime NW Garden

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Bancroft Garden. It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, in Walnut Creek, CA.  We visited on a nice 80F+ day last October.  It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.  Each leaf can be over 10″ across.

When we garden in the public view, and most of us do, at least where we front along the street, or even when we invite others into its more private and inner sanctum, and we grow plants successfully, people are going to ask you: ‘What’s that?’  ‘I didn’t know you could grow those here!’ and, ‘What did you do? they always die for me!’  In short, if you’re successful, people will regard you with respect and assign to you the attributes and position of ‘expert’…when all you did was try to follow the gardening maxim of ‘Right Plant, Right Place!’  In short, you tried not to kill it.  Genuine expertise requires broader experience, study even, that the simple buying and planting of one particular plant cannot earn you.  If you’re like me such easy success and adulation, can be embarrassing and often serves as a prompt, to look through books, search the internet and ask others, that you know who have way more practical growing experience than you yourself do, and gradually, the assignation of ‘expert’ feels a bit less flimsy, maybe even ‘earned’.  I often tell gardening friends that I consider myself to be more of a dilettante, flitting from one plant or group of plants to the next.  Inquisitiveness has always been a part of me and growing one Penstemon, one Banana or one Agave, never adequately ‘grounds’ me.  Grow a few more and I feel a little more comfortable with it.  Look into some of its ‘cousins’ and the particulars of where something grows, its climate and soils particularly, and I feel ‘better’, much like I did when I was preparing for mid-terms at school.  And then I move on, my interest sated for the time being, somewhat comfortable in what I know and curious about the next group.  Over time they all start forming a bigger picture out of what once seemed like a massive, unknowable puzzle and I enjoy solving puzzles.  Having said this, I still don’t consider myself to be an expert, just an avid and focused gardener. Continue reading

Water, Irrigation, Xeric: Related and Essential Garden Vocabulary

The fountain in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, a frosty February morning

Water, beautiful and essential.  The fountain in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, a frosty February morning

First in the Water Series

Water is essential to all life on Earth. It comprises a very significant percentage of the mass of every life form. It is the vehicle without which the various metabolic processes would cease. It dissolves and carries in solution the many elements organisms require to build their tissues. It helps produce the conditions necessary for other supporting life forms.  In it’s heating and cooling it creates the weather that helps define the parameters and limits to life in any given place. It works as an erosive medium breaking down landscapes and helping create new ones upon which life adapts and grows. Water moves across and through the surfaces of the Earth in a dynamic yet stable manner helping create the conditions within which life may evolve. It fills that sweet spot moving readily from gaseous form to liquid to solid where our water/carbon based life forms can take advantage of its transformations.  Without it life as we know it would end.  With our disruption, we have altered the pathways and cycling of water across the landscape and so have altered the conditions under which life must live, cutting down forests, draining wetlands, channelizing streams, grading and paving the Earth’s surface. Our actions have directly impacted every habitat, every landscape, on Earth. We are even changing the weather patterns themselves, changing the conditions within which it operates driven by the sun’s energy.  We are massively altering the Earth’s landscapes and its atmosphere in which all of this happens. It is taking on a ‘life’ of its own as we accelerate the rates of deforestation, desertification, expanding urban heat islands, while we continue the mining and burning of carbon previously sequestered for millions of years pressing us on into massive perturbations in our climate patterns. Everything is connected to water. Continue reading

Musa basjoo to Musa sikkimensis to Musa s. ‘Red Tiger’: Garden Updates, July 1, ’15

Musa sikkimense with soft back light

Musa sikkimense with soft back light. That’s Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ with its pin-stripping in the background and Bowle’s Golden Carex low to the right

I suppose there are gardeners out there who are completely satisfied with their gardens and have no plans for changes, expansions or wholesale overhaul, but not me.  Musa basjoo was my first Banana plant.  I grew it for several years.  It is still widely grown in our region.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but I removed mine and replaced it with Musa sikkimensis, the plant pictured above.  In my opinion the foliage, and the way it is carried on the plant, is superior to M. basjoo.  First, is the more vertical angle that it holds its leaves.  This shows off the underside of the leaves and lets morning or afternoon sun light illuminate the leaves causing them to ‘glow’.  The red mid-rib of the leaves really stand out!  In M. basjoo, this doesn’t happen because they’re held in a nearly flat position.  M. basjoo also lacks the red mid-rib.  Next, and this is my opinion from having watched these plants over a period of years, is that M. sikkimensis allows its leaves to ‘flutter in a breeze lettting it ‘spill’ more wind preventing some of the shredding that can afflict Bananas on windy sites, something like the larger Ensete does.  So, why am I preparing to remove it now and swap it out? Continue reading