Windbreak for a Garden

My column in today's San Francisco Chronicle was shortened, removing information about using shadecloth to create a windbreak for a garden. It might be a useful solution, especially for a garden on a roof or elevated deck. Today's column is about growing plants on a windy deck, in containers. The reader wanted to know if there are plants that are both drought tolerant and also attractive to pollinators. Indeed there are, and I listed some, but it is also true that bees and butterflies will be less likely to visit if the site is quite windy. 

The following information was cut from my column:


Reducing windiness on your deck would not only reduce water loss, but also produce an environment more inviting to bees and other pollinators. While a wooden lattice on the windward side would help, I once wondered if there is a wind blocking cloth. I learned that the best material available is a polyester shade cloth that blocks about 50% of the sunlight. If it blocks less sun, it won't stop much wind, so it's a compromise.

            You wouldn't want to put either up on the south side of a garden, or you'd have a shade garden, but our region's prevailing winds are from the west or northwest. A north side wind calming structure wouldn't block the sun, while a west side one would be a trade-off between afternoon sun and wind. You'll have to be the one to decide if that's more help than hindrance in your situation.

            Charley's Greenhouse (, (800) 322-4707) sells a 6-by-12 foot, knitted, green, 50% shade material with edging and grommets for $52.00.


Pineapple Lily--Flowers for Late Summer in San Francisco Gardens

My San Francisco garden is often foggy, cool, and damp in the summer, too much so for a number of late summer-into-fall kinds of flowers. I'm starting a series of posts about some plants that bloom in my garden in this season without succumbing to botrytis (gray mold) or other diseases encouraged by the cool, damp microclimate.

This first flower is Eucomis, also known as pineapple lily. I like it because it looks so dramatic, but it is easy to grow. I have grown it in containers for many years. It blooms without fail in mid-August and lasts several weeks. The leaves are low to the ground; the flower stem is over a foot tall.

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This plant is Eucomis comosa, which has white or pink flowers. Eucomis cl IMG_5021 copy
Here's a close up of one that has pinker flowers. You can see they are like miniature lilies. It is indeed a lily relative, but not related to pineapple. That name comes from the little tuft of leaves at the top of the flower stem, like the one above a pineapple.

Eucomis grows from bulbs, which you may find at a local nursery in the spring, or may have to mail order from a bulb specialty company. It can be grown in the ground if you like, or you can plant one or more bulbs in a container. In the ground or in a container, plant so the neck of the bulb shows at the surface.The plants are hardy to 10 degrees F.

Though the porch on which they are growing goes into shade while the Eucomis is still in bloom, becoming even more cool and damp, it never becomes infected with botrytis or any other disease. After it blooms, the flower stems and leaves pull out of the bulb easily and can be composted.

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Here is a group of eucomis plants in several containers. The ones in the back right are Eucomis bicolor, a similar species that has pale green flowers with purple edges. This species has the same growing needs as E. comosa.


Some Recipes for Garden Cuisine

As promised, here are some of the recipes I mentioned in my talk at the SF Flower and Garden Show on March 24th, 2013. I chose them because I have found them to be particularly useful for cooking from my garden. For the recipes in my talk that are in my book Golden Gate Gardening, see that book.

Flat-leaf parsley is one of my most useful crops. (For cooking, flat-leaf is better than curled parsley, because it is easier to chop.) I grow it in my backyard, rather than in my community garden, so I can have it handy for last-minute needs. Even if you have only a container garden, this could be a useful crop to grow. Use pots 8-10 inches deep, 8 inches wide for one plant, 10 inches wide for 3 plants. Parsley is biennial, so it will flower, go to seed, and then die after it has been exposed to cold weather. Inland, this might only happen after winter cold. Near the coast, cool spring weather, or even cold summer nights might be enough to tip it over the edge. I let a plant or two make seed once or twice a year, so I end up with plants of different ages all the time.(You can continue to eat any leaves or tender stems after the plant makes flower buds, but by the time flowers open, the plants are usually rather tough.) If I were growing in containers, I'd start a few new plants once or twice a year, in a new container, and pull out the ones that are about to flower. (Parsley plants too mature to eat, but still green, are great additions to flavor soup stock, to be strained out before using the stock.)

Middle Eastern Garbanzo Bean Salad

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1 can garbanzo beans, drained   

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

one small clove garlic, minced

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

A pinch of cayenne pepper if desired

Optional additions: 1/4 cup crumbled regular or nonfat feta cheese, 1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato.

Rinse the garbanzos and place them in a medium bowl. Chop the parsley, onion, and garlic. Put them in a small bowl and add the lemon juice and the olive oil. Mix the dressing ingredients. Then pour it over the garbanzos and mix. If you are adding the feta cheese and/or tomatoes, do so now and stir them in. 

Serve cold or at room temperature. About 4 servings.     

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Shredded Beet Salad (Adapted from Farmer John's Cookbook, John Peterson, Gibbs Smith, 2006)

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2-3 cups coarsely grated raw beet

1/4 cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons white or rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon finely chopped  shallot (or white part of wild onion , scallion, or chopped bulb onion)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 small clove garlic, finely minced (1/4-1/2 teaspoon)

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill leaves or one teaspoon of dried dill weed)

salt and black pepper if desired

Put the grated beets in a large salad bowl. In a jar with a lid, combine the rest of the ingredients. Put the lid on and shake vigorously to mix ingredients. Pour the dressing over the beets and toss with two spoons until well coated. Adjust flavor if needed. Ready to eat, but even better if marinated in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

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Two bonus recipes. I have adapted two recipes from a 1986 cookbook for use with currently available and inexpensive kinds of fish:

Fish in Seafood Sauce (Adapted from the book From Sea and Stream, by Lou Seibert Pappas, 101 Productions, 1986) (The wild oinion referred to in this and the previous recipe is Allium triquetrum, a Mediterranean escaped species that is a weed in California gardens. Please only eat weeds if you are sure of your identification skills.)

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8 medium mushrooms, sliced

1 green onion or 2-3 wild onions, cut up

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine

1 cup milk (nonfat is fine)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

a dash of nutmeg (that's like half a pinch)

1/4 cup dry white wine

3-4 ounces of small peeled shrimp or other seafood

1 /13 pounds swai (which is also called white roughy and basa) or snapper

Set oven for 400° F. Spray-oil or grease an approximately 9x12 oven proof casserole or pan. Arrange pieces of fish in the casserole in a single layer. In a small skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in butter or margarine until soft. In a small saccepan, put the milk, then add to it the cornstarch, salt, and nutmeg. Cook the milk mixture, stirring often, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the wine, mushroom/onon mixture, and shrimp or other seafood. Pour the sauce over the fish. Bake, uncovered, for 15-25 minutes, until fish separates easily with a fork. Good served over rotelli pasta. Makes 4-5 servings. 

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French Fish Soup (Adapted from the book From Sea and Stream, by Lou Seibert Pappas, 101 Productions, 1986)

This is adapted from a fish stew recipe from Normandy that included fennel seeds. I used dill instead. I also added a second seafood and more broth. It can be made with rockfish, red snapper, halibut, or tilapia.

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2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped (white part only)

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (canned or homemade)

1 cup of dry white wine

2 medium potatoes or equivalent, cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 medium carrot or equivalent, cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds

1 pound of fish, cut into 1-2 inch pieces

1/4 pound small, peeled shrimp or small mussels (not in shells)

Salt and pepper to taste

Add the olive oil to a medium skillet and saute the onion and leek, while stirring, until it is soft. Start to heat the broth and the wine in a large pot, and add the onions and leeks to it as soon as they are cooked. When the pot boils, add the potato, carrot, bay leaf, and dill seeds. Return the mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Add the fish and other seafood, cover, and simmer about 10 more minutes, until the fish separates easily with a fork. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve hot in wide bowls. 4-6 servings.

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Link to an article on container gardening

At the San Francisco Landscape and Garden Show I gave a talk with a handout on food gardening in containers. I ran out of handouts and promised I'd put this article on my blog. Sorry for the delay. I had to get some seeds in yesterday, and finish a Chronicle column by today. So it turned out I didn't have the article on the computer, but I found the link to it when it appeared in the Chronicle. Here it is:

Thanks for coming to my talk. Hope your gardening experiences are fun and delicious.

Pam Peirce

Minnesota Container Gardens

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As promised, here are some photos from my trip. We were in Minneapolis and Indianapolis. In Minneapolis, in commercial districts, there were many really handsome container plantings. Nice combinations, well executed. When you remember how short the summers are there, you get the feeling that they put a lot of care into the plants as a special summer treat. The one at the left has coleus, purple tradescantia, an ornamental oxalis, creeping Jenny (Lysemachia nummularia), and a small-pink-flowered begonia.
     I am always struck, in Eastern gardens, by the plants that grow well there but not here. In San Francisco, in all but the most protected courtyards, it is too cold for coleus and probably for the tradescantia and the begonia.

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This one depends on coleus amd the tradescantia for color too. There is a purple corydalis in the center, some white-flowered begonia, and a trailing nasturtium. Nasturtium prefers our nice cool weather, so it is special in the East. All of these containers were on the north sides of stores, out of direct sun, so the nasturtium isn't as floriferous as it would be in sun, but I imagine that the shade helps keep it cool.


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This container planting gives the climate away. The big leaves are Alocasia, known as African mask. It wants warm temperatures and high humidity. It is sometimes sold as a houseplant, but our houses are generally too cool and dry for it. But in a Minnesota summer, no problem. (I'll bet it spends its winters in a greenhouse.) With it is English ivy, creeping Jenny again (chartreuse) and a purple leaved plant I can't identify (can anyone tell what it is?).

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And then there are the more common flowers, such as this pot that contained a Rudbeckia and some petunias, but very sunny and nice.

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In Indianapolis, in the several commercial neighborhoods we visited, the plantings were less sophisticated and not as well executed. This is the kind that were near the Monument Circle (the monument that is the center of town and has a circular street around it). In the center is a Ficus benjamina. Around it are flowers and foliage. I can't quite see what they all are. There were short zinnias in a lot of these planters, so maybe that's what the flower is. There is some creeping Jenny. Many of the containers in Indianapolis, though not this one, had the chartreuse-leaved ornamental sweet potato in them. You know, the one that barely grows in San Francisco, just making a couple of feet of big chartreuse leaves. Well, in Indianapolis it grows like crazy. In a lot of the planters it has clearly grown faster than expected, engulfing zinnias and dwarfing small corydalis plants that are in the center of the large pots. Again, warmer summers.

I am always struck, when I travel East, that they try to attain a tropical look using plants we struggle to grow here, houseplanty stuff like the Alocasia and the coleus, but they can't grow the really cool subtropical stuff that we depend on for a tropical feel, such as the princess flower, angel's trumpet, big tall shrubs of fucshia, melianthus (honey bush), tree ferns, etc. That is, they can grow them, but they have to go inside all winter, where they would prefer a cool greenhouse, but probably get one that is too warm for them. So they never look great or get really big.

I see magazine photos of Eastern tropical-look container plantings all the time. They sure look great and the the fact the magazines are being sold here, seems to imply the plantings are universally appropriate. But our climate is different. We need local advice and plant lists for our gardens! All gardening is local.