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July 2009
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October 2009

Tomato Late Blight Report

In March, I got seed for a number of tomato varieties that someone or other said might resist tomato late blight, the awful disease, spread by airborne spores, that has been killing a lot of tomatoes in the California Bay Area for about 15 years. (and has recently been killing East Coast tomatoes as well) I planted some of them at City College, and some in my Mission District community garden. I also planted 'Stupice' tomato as a control--a plant I know gets late blight, just to be sure it's around.

The plants are bigger at City College, probably because the soil is in better shape. There are only a few blight lesions here and there on the plants. They ripened a few fruits in July, but a long foggy period in mid July through early August has meant a break in ripe fruit for now.

At Dearborn, more fruit is ripening, due to the warmer microclimate. I have lost one plant to late blight, and it is a 'Legend' tomato. This variety was bred to be late blight resistant, but clearly can't resist the strain, or the plant pathologists call it, the race, of late blight we have here. The plant is now only a couple of brown stalks. Some of the other plants have some blight lesions on stems or leaf stems, but are still bearing. The best looking plant, good color, lots of fruits, and no sign of late blight so far is one called 'Juliet'. If this one proves resistant, I will be realy pleased, because it makes nice oval fruits, like paste tomatoes but smaller, and lots of them. They are bigger than a cherry tomato though, about 1 3/4 to 2 inches long. Flavor--not too great, but they worked really well to make broiled appetizer tomatoes last night.

(Recipe: Mix 4 tablespoons of finely chopped green onions, 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise, and two tablespoons of finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley. Cut 6-8 small tomatoes in half. Spread/mound the cheese mixture on the halves. Broil 2-3 minutes or untill the high places on the topping just begin to brown. Serve hot as appetizer or side dish. This recipe is in my book Golden Gate Gardening.)

Anyway, I promise photos soon. And welcome any reports or photos from others who may be growing any of the varieties we grew at City College last spring.

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.