Controlled Chaos: Welcoming Self-Seeded Plants Into Your Garden

In this month's SF Chronicle column (which will appear December 13, 2015) I reviewed a book called Cultivating Chaos: How to Enrich Landscapes with Self-seeding Plants. Every vegetable gardener knows that some vegetables self-seed in gardens. The mustard or arugula we didn't pull out before they set seed, the last beans, hiding in the foliage until they ripen and drop, the parsnip we let bloom to attract beneficial insects. These all will result in little surprises in the following year. With our long California seasons, with plenty of time for seeds to ripen, we probably see more volunteer crop seedlings than would gardeners in short-summer climates.

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(Self-seeded arugula with Daffodils, in February. A free salad green that decorates the garden until you eat it up.)

               What do we do about it? Depending on our needs, we may let the volunteer grow and eat it. Or, if it is in the way, we may move it, or if that isn't possible, because it will not transplant well, or if we have too many seedlings of it, we pull it out. No problem. We usually kind of like it that nature has given us something we might eat without having to sow the seed. So it is a short leap to enjoying volunteers in our flower gardens.

               The Cultivating Chaosbook is a celebration of ornamental plants that grow from naturally dropped seed, as opposed to seed we replant each year. It will be an inspiration to those who want to have a truly beautiful ornamental garden that embraces some of these plants. It includes many photos of handsome gardens or parts of gardens using self-sowing plants, tips on using them well in gardens, and a plant encyclopedia to illustrate and discuss the merits of a number of plant candidates.

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(I shot this image at Annie's Annuals. This nursery, in Richmond, CA, is a good source of plants that will reseed, such as these red poppies. They are at anniesannuals.com.)

                Here I must acknowledge that some gardeners are afraid of self-seeding plants. It has been a fashion recently to plant home gardens that are like the gardens of a commercial establishment in that the plants have been chosen to grow slowly, need little pruning, and stay put. A thick mulch is applied to keep weeds down, and any wayward seeds usually perish in the mulch. It's called low-maintenance gardening, and I suppose it is, but oh, how I would miss the serendipity of an old-fashioned garden flower bed.

               The authors of Cultivating Chaos understand that one does not want a garden to be 100% chaos. They say the trick to creating a pleasing garden design with self-seeding flowers is to contrast their relative chaos with "clearly defined architectural forms and areas of quiet that are the result of traditional garden planning."

               Yes! I knew this when I decided what I wanted in my own garden. It needed enough structure created by hardscape that some of the planted areas could be more random (or chaotic), with only an occasional formal row of some plant to add a modicum of order. Broken concrete and used bricks create low retaining walls and a patio, with some paths made of concrete pavers or decomposed granite. Now I have to decide how much self-sowing to allow. I have learned, as did the authors of Cultivating Chaos, that much of what goes on to manage the potential chaos is removal of unwanted seedlings.

               Removing self-seeding plants is weeding, really, but what you remove is often, and, as the process continues, more often, a flower rather than a true weed. (If there is bare earth, and even if there is a mulch, really, there will be weeds. So one might as well be weeding out flower seedlilngs as weedy plants with no ornamental value.)

               I must say here that my book, Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, features a number of self-seeding ornamentals that thrive in our regional microclimates. I grow many of these in my own garden--including columbine, blue nigella Kenilworth ivy, feverfew, linaria, cineraria, nasturtium, Johnny-jump-up, and California poppy. I do buy plants and seed, but I depend on self-sowers to fill in between them and bloom each year without having to be purchased or sown.(And I also have volunteer parsley, chervil, arugula, potatoes, an occasional parsnip.)

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(A self-seeded Alpine strawberry, golden feverfew, purple cineraria, and columbine fill in this corner of my garden.)

               And, as I said earlier, many gardeners are afraid of self-sowers, so they are afraid of my book. A sad fact, since they are losing access to so much useful information, including information on which of the featured plants are deer tolerant, snail tolerant, drought tolerant (most), or attractive to humming birds.

             The book Cultivating Chaos skips lightly over potential problems and over the chance of plants escaping into wildlands. However, in Wildly Successful Plants, I don't skip these hard parts, but have delved into them thoroughly so that a gardener can make decisions that are responsible for our region and for an individual garden.

               One of the main principles of responsibility is that plants act differently in different regions. I was surprised to find lady's mantle (Alchimella mollis) listed in Cultivating Chaos as a self-seeder, as it has never done that in my garden. Nor has blanket flower (Gaillardia). On the other hand, they say that Mexican daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) can be expected to self-sow only in dry locations with sandy soil. Here, in a dry summer Mediterranean climate, that plant reproduces like crazy (though the variety 'Spindrift', mentioned in Wildly Successful Plants, is said not to produce seed.)

               There is also a question of whether a plant could become a wildland weed. Again, only a paragraph of warning in Cultivating Chaos, but a careful analysis in Wildly Successful Plants. My analysis is possible in part because I am writing about a specific region, whereas Cultivating Chaos, which was written by Germans and which tries to be more universal in coverage, can't deal with the fact that fennel and ox-eye daisy, which they recommend, are nasty weeds here, while lady's mantle, as I mentioned, doesn’t seem to self sow at all.

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(California poppies are featured in both Cultivating Chaos and Wildly Successful Plants, but I've explained in Wildly Successful Plants that the native in the Central California Coast region is this two-toned variety.

               To be a wildland weed, incidentally, a plant needs not only to self-sow, but to be able to compete in regional undisturbed or lightly disturbed wildland habitats. This ability varies by plant and by region, and I've analyzed it carefully before suggesting each plant in Wildly Successful Plants.

               The strength of the book Cultivating Chaos lies not in its analysis of using self-sowing plants responsibly, but in its photos. They give design ideas that will inspire you to want a bit of chaos in your garden. There are all-the-same-color flower plantings and ones with bold contrasting color schemes; informal gardens with only paths through the self-sown beds; and gardens in which chaos plays against formal hedges and hardscape. There are self-sowers peeking up through pavers and ornamenting dry-stone walls. There are photos of plants that have formed handsome seedpods, backlit to show their edges. The photos make me want to create ever more lovely self-seeded chaos in my garden.

Full bibliographic Info:

Cultivating Chaos: How to Enrich Landscapes with Self-Seeding Plants, Jonas Reif, Christian Kress, with photos by Jürgen Becker, Timber Press, 2015.

Wildly Successful Plants Northern California, Pam Peirce, with photos by David Goldberg, Sasquatch Books, 2004.

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(Seedpods of some common self-seeding flowers.)


Overwintering Vegetable Crops: Seed Sources

California gardeners who live in mild winter climates (all but the Sierra foothills and mountains), can grow overwintering types of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. We may also be looking for varieties of some other crops that grow well in our winter months. For example, some lettuce varieties handle cold better than others. In addition, if you live in a coastal part of California, you will want to locate vegetable varieties that will thrive in cool summers. For the widest choice of varieties, you can start them from seed.  In my book Golden Gate Gardening, I have described many of the best overwintering and cool-tolerant varieties, given sources for seed, and included a chapter explaining when and how to start seedlings. Following is a short list of some of our best mail order seed companies for regionally adapted varieties, and two local stores that sell seed from some of these otherwise mail order companies.

Yr frost 0299697-R01-008 copyOverwintering 'Purple Sprouting' Broccoli

Bountiful Gardens  Bountiful Gardens Web Site

Kitazawa Seed Company  Kitazawa Web Site

Niichols Garden Nursery   Nichols Web Site

Territorial Seed Company  Territorial Web Site

Two East Bay stores offer seeds from some of these seed companies:

Pollinate Farm and Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510-686-3493

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Avenue, Berkeley, 510-526-4704

 

 


Fish with Seafood Sauce and Shredded Raw Beet Salad

The wild onion in the following recipes is shown below. The first image shows the plant, which grows from late fall to spring, usually as a weed in gardens and wild urban places in the San Francisco Bay Area. It could be made with ordinary green onions. If you live in the Eastern US, you might have access to a plant that is native there called ramps, which is similar and could be used instead. (Ramps don't grow in the West.)

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The second image shows a close up of leaves and flowers, so you can see the ridge, or keel, on the underside of the leaves and also that the flower stem is triangular in cross section. Note that there is a green line down each of the petals.

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Fish in Seafood Sauce (Adapted from the book From Sea and Stream, by Lou Seibert Pappas, 101 Productions, 1986) (The wild onion referred to in this 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.)

8 medium mushrooms, sliced                                               3 tablespoons cornstarch

2-3 green onion or wild onions, cut up                                 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon butter or margarine                                         a dash of nutmeg (that's like half a pinch)

1 cup milk (nonfat is fine)                                                       1/4 cup dry white wine

3-4 ounces of small peeled shrimp or other seafood

1 to 1 1/3 pounds rock fish like snapper (or swai, which is also called white roughy and basa)

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 saucepan, 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/onion 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 3-4 servings. 

Some photos follow, showing preparation and serving of the dish:

Cutting up the wild onions and the mushrooms. The fish is in the casserole.

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The casserole ready to bake.  Wild onion IMG_2926 copy

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The recipe calls for shrimp, but in this case the dish has been made with cut-up cooked mussels, purchased frozen.

 

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                              1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

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 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

leaves and flowers of wild Mediterranean onion for garnish

             Put the grated beets in a large salad bowl. In a small 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. The salad is now ready to eat, but it's even better if marinated in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

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Some Resources for Waterwise Gardeners

This is not meant to be a complete list, by any means, but here are a few publications and links that will be useful if you are selecting plants for a waterwise garden.

WUCOLS stands for Water Use Classification of Landscape Plants. This project, sponsored by UCDavis, California Dept of Water Resources, California Center for Urban Horticulture, lets you find out the water needs of over 3,500 landscape plants in six different regions of California. The most recent version WUCOLS IV,can be accessed at the following address:

http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/   Click on "Plant Search" Or you can use this link: WUCOLS IV

For information on growing California Native Plants, check out the Las Pilitas web site, laspilitas.com, or use this link: Las Pilitas Nursery.

Here are links to two articles on the subject of watering trees during a drought that were recently in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Trees Out on A Limb

Watering Trees in A Drought

Finally, here is a short list of books that you will find useful as you seek ideas and plants for a waterwise garden:

California Native Plants for the Garden, Burnstein, Fross, O'Brien, Cachuma Press, 2005.Photos, text on garden uses and care.

New Sunset Western Garden Book. I think the most recent is 2012, and it does have all color photos, which are helpful, but the text of couple of editions right before this one were a little more thorough.

Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates, Peter B. Dallman, University of California Press, 1998. Maps and charts show how the 5 mediterranean regions are similar and, importantly, how they differ, then explains the habitats to which many of our favorite plants are adapted.

 Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region, East Bay MUD, 2004. Inspiring photos and useful information.

The Random House Book of Indoor and Greenhouse Plants, Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, Volumes 1 & 2, Random House,1997. Despite the name, thiese two volumes cover mostly mediterranean and other subtropical plants that we can grow outside. The photos and text about the plants in their native habitats are very useful.

Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, Pam Peirce, Sasquatch Books, 2004.California garden history, plant origins, garden maintenance instructions, garden design, and a philosophy for a regional garden.


About the Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series

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A number of readers wrote in to ask where they could purchase the Bindens varieties I wrote about in my August column. The one shown above is Bidens Hawaiian Flare series 'Red Drop'. It and other Hawaiian Flare Bidens varieties have been available to wholesalers for at least two years, but are not often to be found in local nurseries. When I saw this variety last summer at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I asked them about it. They said their supplier was out. I neglected to find out its name, and without a name, I didn't have a way to search for it.

Then the manager of Flowercraft Nursery, in San Franciso, found it in a truck arriving from a wholesaler, thought it might be what I wanted and plucked some out for me. With the correct name, I could write about it, and with the proper name, we can ask local retailers to carry it.

A little research turns up the following information:Bidens Hawaiian Flare series was bred by Florsaika, a Japanese company see florsaika.com/bidens-hawaiian-flare/). It is available only from cuttings, and these are handled exclusively by Florexpo, a company based in Costa Rica that sells unrooted cuttings to brokers worldwide, but mostly to North America, Europe, and Japan. (See florexpo.net)  On the websites of both of these companies, you can see videos that explain their businesses.

From Florexpo, the cuttings go to brokers. Then a wholesale nursery buys them from a broker and grows the  plants up to the size retailers want. Finally, the wholesaler sends out plants, in some combination of what the retailer asks them to send and what they think a retailer will want.

Before I list a plant, I usually contact some local nurseries and make sure they are carrying it, so they won't be caught without it. But in this case, I think the plants are sleepers--great choices that have not become widely available. You might find them available locally, but if not, politely ask your local nursery for the plants by name. Tell them you'd like to have some Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series plants, now, if they can get any, next spring if they can't get them now. Then they will ask their wholesalers about the plants, and either get ones now or see if they can get a wholesaler to grow some for spring. (The nurseries that are most likely to carry these varieties are ones that buy plants from wholesalers, rather than ones that usually grow their own plants from their own seed or cuttings, since these plants have to be grown from purchased cuttings.)

Here is how Hawaiian Flare 'Red Drop' looks in my garden now (growing with blue annual Convolvulus tricolor and some chartreuse green nicotiana).

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The plants growing with them are Nicotiana in chartreuse and white and annual Convolvulus tricolor (blue).

Here is another Bidens Hawaiian Flare, 'Red Star', that I found in a nursery, not realizing at the time that it was in the same series as 'Red Drop'.

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It is growing here with some blue edging lobelia.

The advantages of the new Bidens varieties are, besides different colors and larger flowers than were otherwise available, that their more open, taller form allows them to drape and to mix with other plants in a border, and their height makes them more attractive to native bees and other beneficial insects.

Finally, here is a close up of the Bidens that used to be the main one available. The plant shown here is fairly young, so only has a few flowers, but when it grows larger, this plant will be a low mat covered with the one inch yellow flowers.

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It is growing under a taller feverfew plant that has similar, but larger, leaves.


Help Learning to Use Plant Scientific Names

There is another post containing resources for gardeners learning to use plant scientific names. You will find it if you search for "Plant ID". I have added the following new one today:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/2plants.htm Searchable list of common garden plant genera. Click on a genus name to get description and links to many photos of different parts and stages of the plant. It also links to another database, this one providing a simplified plant key for woody landscape plants.


Master Gardener Spring Sales--Mostly Tomatoes

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Master Gardeners will be holding spring markets in three Bay Area counties in April. As reported in my SF Chronicle Column of April 5, they will be as follows:

San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners will hold two sales. The first is on April 11, 9-1, at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City. The second is April 18th, 10-2, at Central Park in San Mateo, and is part of an open house at the park on that day. For more information: 2015 San Mateo/SF Spring Garden Market Information

Marin County Master Gardeners are having two sales on the same day, April 18th, both 9:30-12. One is at the Bon Air Shopping Center, 50 Bon Air Ctr., Greenbrae, the other is at the Pini Market, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato..For more information: 2015 Marin County Tomato Market Information

Santa Clara Master Gardeners are having their sale on April 11, 9-2 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose..:For more information: 2015 Santa Clara Spring Market Garden Information

All of the sales include tomato plants galore and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions and the  April 11th sales in Redwood City and in San Jose include other kinds of seedlings and garden talks, and  a "green elephant" sales.

Each of the Master Gardener Organizations have prepared lists of the tomato varieties they will be selling, with information on the qualities of each variety. Here are links to the three 2015 tomato variety lists:

2015 San Francisco/San Mateo Tomato List

2015 Marin County Tomato Varieties

2015 Santa Clara County Tomato List

 

 

 


New Chronicle Column

I'll have a column in the Food+Home section of the Sunday Chronicle starting March 1 and on the first Sunday of every month. It is billed as an almanac and will include photos, tips, calendar listings, new plants, books, or tools. I will be answering questions again, though with very short answers, but if you have one, send it through my contact page of this blog or send it to home@sfchronicle.com with my name in the Subject line. And if you have other information you think I'd like to know, pass it on.

 


San Bruno Mountain Plant Sale--Mission Blue Nursery

Mark your calendar on Saturday February 21st, 2015 to visit Mission Blue Nursery at 3401 Bayshore Blvd., in Brisbane, for a native plant sale to benefit San Bruno Mountain Watch. You can learn more about the sale, and about San Bruno Mountain, at http://www.mountainwatch.org/sbmw-plant-availability/. Indeed, as the link address implies, you can access a list of plants that will be offered for sale. There is also a link to driving directions to the nursery. (Brisbane is just south of SF on the Bay side of the Peninsula, nestled into the base of San Bruno Mountain on its east side.)

This is an opportunity to shop at a nursery that is usually only open to the public by appointment and with a $100 minimum. All proceeds from the February 21st sale will benefit San Bruno Mountain Watch, an organization that works to protect the mountain.

Bring boxes to carry plants that you select. You can pay with cash, check or credit card.

San Bruno Mountain is a San Mateo County Park that offers wonderful hikes. There are fine Bay and City views and a wealth of native plants to see as you walk. These hikes are especially enjoyable in spring, when so many of our native flowers are in bloom.

 

 


Fall Plant Sale--Master Gardeners of San Mateo/San Francisco

Coming soon is the fall plant sale of the Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco. Here is their announcement:

Please join us for our Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, September 20th from 9:00AM to 1:00PM.
 
We are offering an exciting array of vegetables, succulents, perennials, edible flowers, cover crop seeds and a wonderful choice of garlic seed and shallots perfect for your Fall Garden!
 
Vegetables Varieties
Beets_Chioggia, Bull’s Blood, Golden, and Shiraz
CabbageAll Seasons, and January King
Broccoli_Quartina, Di Ciccio, Romanesco, Piricicaba, and Solstice
Peas_Maestro, and Alderman Pole Peas
Spinach_Giant Winter, Monnopa Low Acid, Monster of Viroflay
Lettuce_Outstanding Red Romaine, Bronze Arrow Looseleaf, and Arctic King Butterhead
Chard_Fordhook Giant, Rainbow Mix, and Perpetual Spinach Chard
Kale_Vates Blue Curled, Lacinato (Dinosaur), Dwarf Green Curled, Portuguese, and Russian Red
Bunching Onion_White Spear
Endive_Frisee Fine Cut
Mustard_Red Giant
Leek_Musselburgh
 
LOTS of GARLIC and SHALLOTS!!!
Artichoke Seed Garlic_Inchelium Red                                     
Rocambole Seed Garlic_Killarney Red
Porcelian Seed Garlic_Magic
Shallots_Dutch Red
 
Succulents and Perennials…too many to list
 
Cover Crop Seeds
 
Our sale location is 2645 South El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94403. Parking is limited so please park off-site.
 
Let us help you get your FALL GARDEN off to a good start.