Previous month:
December 2007
Next month:
February 2008

Rainy Day Greens

The gardens of the City are certainly green these days, but the gardeners are a bit blue, since it has been very difficult to find a dry day to work in gardens comfortably. It has been raining nearly every day for what seems like forever, but is really probably about a week and a half. And most of the rains have been really heavy, no misty days, just cold, driving rain.

Yes, we do need the rain. We are at 14 inches for the season now, 2 inches more than the average at this time of year, but don't we always want a more perfect arrangement? Maybe three days of nonstop rain and then four of sunshine each week until we reach the season's rainfall quota. That would be an improvement.

I ran out on Saturday afternoon and trimmed some of the plants in my front garden under a sky that looked threatening, but didn't drop any rain for several hours. The garden doesn't look wonderful even after that work, but I know it will look better for it in a few weeks. It is mostly a study in green now, from the chartreuse of the golden feverfew, through the gray green of California poppy leaves and the grayer green of bush morning glory. The white paludosum daisies are blooming, steel blue Cerinthe and clear blue Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder', and an occasional red Schizostylis (crimson flag). But, already the watsonia leaves are about 2 feet tall and the sparaxis leaves are a foot, which means they will be sending up flower stems soon.

Today I sowed seed of collards, Florence fennel, and celeriac indoors and I have lettuce and leek seedlings in the windowsill. My Saturday class sowed all sorts of flowers and vegetables, which are in the greenhouse at the college. Can spring be far behind?

What's up in the City College Garden

December_07_004_copy What is literally "up" is the new trellis. I plan to plant it with chayote squash, a subtropical vine that should cover it completely in a year or two. Chayote, also known as chayote pear, has pale green fruits that taste rather like a summer squash, but are borne in the winter. A mature plant can produce a couple of hundred fruits a year. That's a lot of food unless you have a lot of eaters, but I am planning to share them with students, and since they will be ready in November and December, finding students to try them shouldn't be a problem. In addition to the fruits, one can eat the young shoots, though there may not be enough of them the first year. (In Guatemala, where there are many of the plants, people pick and eat just the tendrils.)

Chayote plants can reach 30 feet tall, and if there is a tree, or a wall, or a building close by, they will climb it. Better be sure there is nothing near that will let the vine climb so high you can't reach the fruit. This trellis has a defensible space on one side, but on the left side, I want to take out one more section of fence, so the vine can't leap onto it and take off.

At present I have 4 squashes in the greenhouse, set in potting mix, waiting for them to grow. The seed never hardens, you just plant the entire squash and wait for the seedling to emerge. I'm hoping for seedlings I can transplant by March. (I'll plant 2, so they can cross pollinate.)

The chayote trellis is to be the centerpiece of a new planting of Central and South American upland edibles in the garden. Stay tuned for more on this project.

December_07_007_copy Meanwhile, the more ordinary crops are doing fine. These Brussels sprouts, planted in mid-August, were starting to bear by December.

Late_nov_07_023_copy And here is 'January King' cabbage, planted on the same day in August as the Brussels sprouts. I took this photo in late November. As you can see, the head is starting to form, but it isn't ready yet.

Garden Photography Class

0299697r01019_copy2 Time to announce that David Goldberg, the professional Landscape and Garden Photographer, who took the photos in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, will be teaching this spring at UC Berkeley Extension. The class is called Horticultural Photography, and will take place at the SF campus, Saturdays, starting March 29th. David is not only an excellent photographer, but also a clear and helpful teacher who will help you make a quantum leap into taking better photographs with your digital or film SLR. You may want to do that just for enjoyment, but if you are planning or already in a landscape career, you will want to know how to take the best possible shots to use for marketing or to enter competitions. To learn more about the class, check out You can also see lots of David's photographs on his website at, and can send him any questions you may have about the class.

Source for Yellow Cosmos bipinnatus

Aha, I finally located the source of my yellow cosmos (see photo and more information about this plant in the previous post). I can't find the seed packet, but I thought I remembered it being Seeds of Change (, and sure enough, they are listed in the catalog. The charm of these flowers is that they are the species Cosmos bipinnatus, not Cosmos sulphureus, the one that is usually yellow or orange. This pale yellow is of the species that is usually white, pink, or magenta. I usually have better luck with this species, for some reason, so I was delighted to find a yellow one.

Another surprise. The catalog also lists a variety they call 'Sunrise' with orange/golden and red/orange flowers. They don't give a species, but they say that unless otherwise specified, they are C. bipinnatus. And they sell C. sulphureus separately, so I guess I will have to try this one and see what it looks like!

All of these are suitable for starting in spring through mid summer. The catalog says they can live through a few light frosts, which mine certainly have. An Achilles heel is that the side stems can snap at the point of attachment to the central stem in heavy winds (or when a delivery person tosses a newspaper at them--grrr!).