Saturday, December 29, 2012

Full Moon Party

Bryan Tedrick invited us to his end of the year Full Moon Party at his studio in Glen Ellen, CA.  Reggae inspired beats pulsing from the speakers and small plates served by Rob Larman of Cochon Volant set the mood for festive evening.

The visual feast was the life of the party. Bryan had a sampling of work from throughout his career on display. He also had sketches and pieces in progress that preview what we can expect in 2013.  As far as sculpture, Minaret and Orgasm were the real showstoppers.  If you’ve been to burning man, they might look familiar.  Lit up and pushing 50 feet, both pieces are quite a sight.  Belly dancing performances by Natalie Tedrick and friends – think sword balancing and fire – added to the mystique.

One of Tedrick’s kinetic metal butterflies perches in a sea of green cypress at Wildwood Farm.  The 6’ butterfly gently rotates in the breeze flowing through the Valley.  The powder coated red wings positively glow against their green backdrop.  No wonder it’s a favorite of both adults and kindergarteners.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Chicken Tale For Raina

Every week, Raina from Wise Acre Farm delivers fresh eggs to Wildwood Farm.  For Christmas dinner, she brought us a five pound chicken from a friend's farm to cook.  To show our appreciation, I wrote a short story for her called, A Chicken Tale for Raina.

Once upon a time, there was a chicken lost in the forest.

His mama had left him there.  There were too many other chickens in the coop.  As he was the smallest, he was the first to go.

He had awakened from a troublesome dream and he could not believe what he saw.  He was lost in the woods.

Where is my mama?
Where am I?

These worrisome questions occupied his little head.  As the day grew sunnier, the surroundings seemed to become friendly.

So, he pecked here and he pecked there.  He was pecking happily when he heard a forelone squeak.  Under a group of large leaves he found two baby squirrels.  They looked at each other trying to decide what was going to happen.  The baby squirrels hugged him.  They became companions.

As the days went by, the chicken pecked and the squirrels cracked nuts.  They sang all day long.

It so happens a Hollywood producer was in the woods searching for mushrooms.  He heard the singing.  The singing was so delightful.  He followed it to the source.  He found the chicken - now grown - and the two squirrels - now grown.

He thought they could compete on American Idol for Animals.  He talked to them and they said 'why not'.

The chicken acquired the name of Chicklet a Boom and the squirrels were known as Handy and Dandy.

They went on to become famous after the record Chicken Do Bye went multi platinum.

They lived happily ever after, to a ripe old age.

Moral: sing in the forest, you never know who will hear you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Signs of Life

This time of year you have to look closely [to the ground] to see signs of life.  Between rainstorms, it's fun to see what's peeking through the soil.  The narcissus have already sent up sturdy green shoots at Wildwood Farm.  A few even have blooms on them!  Their refreshing perfume is the perfect scent for crisp clear winter afternoons.  The real show will be a bit later when the big boys - the large yellow and orange flowers - make an appearance.

Between rainstorms it's also a window to do some light transplanting.  Digging up a big bundle of roots is easy right now.  The shovel slices right through the soil.  Keeping all the roots on drought tolerant plants like lavender and euphorbia helps them through next summer - they already have their network to withstand long dry spells.

And there's peonies to think about.   These guys are awfully picky about being moved.  Dislodging an eye or a shoot could spoil next year's blooms.  It's worth the risk to get them in prime real estate for the early spring show though.  Before we know it, those swelling buds will be gigantic flowers that light up the garden.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Drama in the 60's

1960 entered the atmosphere – no where to begin.  I returned to hard labor – I didn’t realize how enjoyable it was – sweating in the sun, digging in the earth.  It was peaceful but I needed more money to survive.  One day my career fell into my lap.  I was in Oakland, CA and walked past a beauty school – hairdressing – I can do that.  I walked in and started my ten year career.

1960, the beginning of rock and roll - San Francisco was bursting at its seams.  Across the bay, I was loving the hairstyling classes.  To take a wet head of hair and roll it and dry it and comb it out.  It was a new avenue that I couldn’t believe I was doing.  Graduation time came and I went into a real life of finally working.  I spent a year at some fast paced salons.  I decided to go to NYC  Paris where the big boys were.

Of course, I didn’t speak French and since the French are very fluffy they didn’t like me.  NYC was another planet – people racing from corner to corner.  I worked in a 24 hour salon on 42nd St in Manhattan.  A real eye opener.  I stayed about six months and returned home.  I found work quickly.  The best thing about hairstyling is you don’t need references or a resume to find a job.  You do a comb out and if you’re good, you’re hired.  Within a year, I had my own salon.

While at hairstyling school, I met Harland Hand.  He was finishing his home and garden.  I rented a room from him and worked in his garden i.e. I was in charge of backpacking 80lb sacks of redimix concrete and 4cu ft bags of topsoil down the hill.  It was a long way down and back up.  He didn’t have any paper plans – he just put things together and it worked out.  Upon his death, I believe the city of El Cerrito took over the grounds and made it a public garden.

Meanwhile, in my salon I was on a tear...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Golden Gate Parks Party

On Saturday, the Parks Conservancy said thanks to all the volunteers that supported the many projects in San Francisco’s Presidio.  With great food, a national parks version of the 12 days of Christmas [as in five irrigation rings…], and a slide show with highlights from the year, it was a great occasion for everyone to reflect on accomplishments.

The Presidio is a unique location and entity.  The US Congress created the Presidio Trust and mandated that all operations in the Presidio be self sufficient.   With the help of volunteers, the NPS manages a massive education and restoration effort on the grounds.  This effort happens at many levels as high school and college age interns often supervise volunteer projects.

I spent a few weekends at one of the native plant nurseries in the Presidio.  Volunteers collect seeds from plants in the presidio, record their location, propagate new plants, and replant areas that are being restored.  I’ve never divided so many sedums in my life. 

Countless small projects, like growing baby sedums, make the Presidio a great place.  They also make great excuses to have a party.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mulch Mulch Mulch

This time of year, Mother Nature blankets deciduous forests with mulch.  Wildwood Farm sits in a Valley that is mostly oak woodlands and meadows.  It seems like each leaf from a valley oak is big enough to singlehandedly mulch a one gallon plant.  With several heritage oaks on the property, we have thousands of leaves on our grounds.  Combine that with the Maple and Dogwood leaves and we have a huge supply of mulch.

If you’ve planted trees in your yard, chances are you’re debating about getting the rake out of the shed or leaving the leaves on the ground.  If they’re left on the ground, they’ll quickly break down.  This builds soil health in countless ways.  It is also something weeds love. 

Another option is to use the leaves against the weeds.  This means raking everyone up and stockpiling them in an area of your yard.  Piled on top of each other, the leaves tend to stay dry and don’t break down as quickly. 

In a few months, there will be a carpet of weeds in the backyard.  A quick pass with a hula hoe will knock them down.  Then, redistributing a thick layer of mulch will block their sun and kill them.  The extra bonus is the soil still benefits from the layer of organic mulch!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Are You Ready to Rock?

At Wildwood Farm, we're taking advantage of bare branches and better sight lines to rethink the hardscape along our entranceway.  Now is a good time to think about the hardscape in your garden too.  The hardscape is anything made out of rock, wood, or concrete such as paths, fences, walls, and accent pieces.

Rocks are one of the few elements that can serve both a functional and aesthetic purpose in a garden. Standing alone, boulders can anchor a space and provide balance to graceful arching plantings.  A dry stacked rock wall will be a sturdy, natural looking addition to  any slope that needs terracing.

The key to a great looking rock installation is the craftsmanship.  Burying at least 1/3 of a stand alone rock is important so it doesn't look like a human plunked it on the ground.  Burying the first course of a rock wall helps anchor the entire stack.  The fun part is fitting together the pieces [rocks] of the puzzle to achieve a beautiful pattern of different shapes and sizes along the face of the wall.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Wreath Wrap Up

One lady who participated in our wreath making classes said she had never heard the word bundle so many times.  Bundle is a key word when you’re talking wreaths.  Every wreath is made up of small clusters of foliage wrapped around a metal ring.  Combining conifers with foliage or different types of conifers creates the pieces that make up the wreath.

For Wildwood Farm’s two wreath making classes, there was an assortment of boughs for the participants to choose from.  It’s always impressive to see first timers reduce the branches of large trees into a festive 12” ring of holiday cheer.  California bay, eucalyptus, fir, assorted chamaecyparis, and cypress were the ingredients of the various wreaths.  Some of the best combinations were cypress, bay and fir, chamaecyparis, bay.  Each one had its own personality and a story behind it.

Everyone, even the eight year olds, walked away eager to hang their wreath on their door for all to see.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Mushroom Time

Bright golden Chanterelles are beacons of cheer this time of year for gardeners and hikers.  These huge ruffled mushrooms pop up year after year under our ancient oak trees at Wildwood Farm.  They like to hide under cover of fallen leaves so it takes an eagle eye to find them.  The cold wet dreary skies are always a reminder to look for them though; it’s definitely a reminder to the mycelium to send up fruitbodies!

Of course, the mycelium lives underneath the ground all year with the oak’s roots.  The fungus gets extra sugars from the oak. The oak uses the mycelium to absorb extra water and nutrients.  A classic symbiotic relationship.

Besides admiring the Chanterelles from above, we also harvest them.  Each mushroom has gills that radiate outward from the stem – very photogenic any way you slice it.  Of course, we eat them too.  They are packed with Vitamin C, Potassium, and Vitamin D.  And they taste great with eggs, in stuffing, or alone.  The trick is to cook the right mushroom!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Decisions of Yesterday

We walk at a rapid pace - the future is here today.  Good and bad things go hand in hand - many times bad things win the everyday battle.  These footsteps are preparing you for the tomorrows.  It is frightening - where to turn, is everything going to workout.  Decisions were up to the individual.  There were none of the hand holding robots we have today [2012 and the future].

Junior year at UC Berkeley was tedious.  The grades were better - more time to spend studying.  But a change was coming.  Everyone had to go into the military for two years.  I dropped out of school and served in the military.  They sent me where I didn't want to go.  They wanted me to hate people I did not know.  Each day was a full twenty four hours.  At last, the release date arrived - Back to Berkeley to finish work towards a degree.

Now, the big step. Looking for a career.  I did not realize it but the next direction was leading to a career in plants.  At that time, the foundation was going to be a long divergent path.  Plenty of ups and downs - hang on - it was a rapid fast paces trip.  Ten years in a completely unrelated pursuit.

The final days at Berkeley I interviewed at BUROC - put on my one button row powder blue zoot suit.  People kind of looked at me on campus- what the hell was this.  The plastic interviewers couldn't believe their eyes.  Looking back, I couldn't either.  Needless to say, no one wanted me.  Retailing was out - Macy's, Saks the other department stores were looking for top grades, not some ill prepared person.  Big mistake on their part

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Summer Sky Tea for Hummingbirds

After watching a new selection of Agastache flourish in our gardens this summer, we ordered more.  It arrived in a cell pack - 96 baby Agastache with just a few leaves on each plant.  We let it acclimate to the Valley of the Moon climate for a week before putting each one in a 4" pot.  Then we waited.

With the help of some late season heat, it added many new shoots and even a few of its signature dark purple flowers.  But now, we don't want the Agastache to have to continue to find the energy to push more flowers as the temperature drops.  So, we trimmed back much of the new growth to the thicker part of the stems.

The hummingbirds were devastated.  The common name for several varieties of Agastache is Hummingbird Mint.  These little guys would practically knock over a baby plant pushing on the small flowers!  The cuttings from Agastache 'Summer Sky' didn't go to waste though.  We snipped off the leaves and put them in our tea pot.  The mild flavor was pleasant and slightly reminiscent of mint.  On a rainy day, the best part was the warmth. 

Agastache 'Red Fortune' is next on the menu.  The Hummingbirds love it too.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall Color Tours

On Tuesday, a group of 30 gardeners visited Wildwood Farm to learn more about maples.  They chose November to see fall color at its peak.  Of the hundreds of maples, we highlighted 30 or so that have outstanding fall color.  It was difficult to limit the list to 30.  It seemed like someone was always scribbling the name of a maple that caught their eye on their handout.

Acer japonicum cultivars are known for their fall color – scarlet, orange, red, yellows all on one plant.  Generally, the leaf outline is the distinguishing characteristic of japonicum cultivars.  In contrast, Acer palmatum cultivars generally have one dominant color, like a red Osakazuki.  A Baldsmith, which has green, pink, and red tones throughout the year will also turn to a uniform vibrant red.  It truly is a collage of colors in the nursery and gardens this time of year.

The color change starts when the temperature drops below 46 F.  At the point, the chlorophyll starts to shut down.  This is the pigment that lends leaves their green color.  Anthocyanin and Anthoxanthin are other pigments in the plant that color leaves.  A combination of sunlight and temps below 46 F allow these purple reds and yellow colors to come to the fore.  The show is fleeting because the plants need the chlorophyll for photosynthesis. 

Enjoy the show while it lasts!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Man vs Gopher

To really understand this epic struggle for supremacy, we have to consult an Integrated Pest Management expert.  This is a rapidly growing field that seeks to use poison and pesticide only as a last resort.

Carl Spackler, assistant greenskeeper at Bushwood Country Club, specializes in gopher eradication.  When asked his approach, he replied “I have to laugh, because I’ve often asked myself, my foe, my enemy, is an animal.  In order to conquer him, I have to think like an animal, and whenever possible to look like one.  I’ve got to get inside this dude’s pelt”.

If you’re dealing with bugs or mildew, thinking about the root cause of the problem makes sense.  You might be able to correct something before using a pesticide or herbicide.

When it comes to gophers, don’t mess around.  We tried planting one section of Wildwood Farm three times, each time thinking the gopher wouldn’t bother the plants.  Wrong. 

This time, we’re planting perennials that have a scent, like Nepeta and Salvia nemerosa.  These two plants are gopher resistant.  Resistant as in the enemy will leave them alone once they are established.  Getting them established is the trick.  Gophers prefer local, organic, fresh roots.  We wrapped chicken wire around the roots and folded in the bottom.  Crafting a special basket isn’t necessary. The roots will find their way outside the wire.  We like the salvia because it will carpet an entire section with purple blooms.

We went the extra mile and planted onion too.  Not just any onion, but one of the ornamental varieties.  We get 3-4” drumstick purple blooms in the spring and the gopher gets a whiff of onion.  Allium sphaerocephalon never sounded so good.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dig. Drop. Done.

That’s the new marketing slogan for the Netherland Bulb Company.  They sell bulbs, lots of them.  From the sound of the campaign, everyone still doesn’t realize how easy gardening with bulbs can be.  There are a few things to keep in mind.

Wildwood Farm ordered several hundred bulbs from several different companies.  We also bought steamed bone meal from LeBallister’s Seeds, a local company that specializes in wildflower mixes and fertilizers.  With LeBallister’s, we get 50lbs of powdered bone meal for $36 and that’s it – none of the other fillers that come in the ‘bulb food’ packages.   Most bulbs like a spoonful of bone meal [bulbs absorb powder faster than granular] when they’re planted to get going for spring.

The fun part of planting bulbs is the design.  It takes a bit of imagination to picture what they will look like in bloom!  Planting in lines simplify things. 

They also look great naturalized – planted in random groupings.  Creating drifts of bulbs, whether it’s with color, variety, height, or bloom progression is the opposite of the formal look. 

There are 425 Narcissus Dutch Master, Scarlet O’Hara, and Tahiti going into a bank on our highway frontage.  The goal is to intersperse the orange ones [Tahiti, Scarlet O’Hara] into larger sections of pure yellow [Dutch Master].  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Decisions & Frustrations of the 50's II

Study and work – the two goals for what?  The middle class was happy.  Cars, houses, and good times.  A war was going on but it was not a war – we were just killing for the practice.  The politicians were ranting about communism.  They saw red in the dark.  Everyone who spoke out against the government was listed as bad.

Thus began my entry UC Berkeley.  The Chancellor gave a speech at Sather Gate; opening statement to the wild eyed and innocent young people.
            “One third of you will fail.  One third of you will drop out.  One third of you will graduate –some will be outstanding, some will do quite well, and some of you will be mediocre”
That certainly put the pressure on us.  I suspect we fulfilled his jubilant analysis.

I enrolled in the Botany major group.  What a mistake.  Botany 16 was me – 19 years old running around like a flea on a hot skillet in a class with 10 deadbeats – 25 to 30 years old.  Three boring lectures a week and 2-3 hour labs – looking through a microscope and drawing pictures of the inside of plant stems.  The professor had a wet dream over the material he had presented for the last two hundred years.

I played baseball.  What a mistake; it was a disaster.  Clint Evans had just retired and they named the field in his honor.  I got to play for George Wolfman – they named a scoreboard  for him.  That was fitting for an idiot.  The man was a non-communicator.  It was a very sad day when I decided to quit.

Schooling went on day after day.  I managed but it was very difficult.  The one bright spot was English Lit 25, taught by the young vibrant Sears Jayne.  He was being dismissed by the UC because he was on the McCarthy list.  I attended his final lecture at Wheeler Auditorium.  The place was packed.  He spoke for an hour – doing Spanish for Don Quixote, German and French quotes from their renowned literature.  There was not a dry eye in the packed house.  He lowered his voice at the end and quietly it faded out and he turned and walked out.  A thunderous applause followed him.  It was a tremendous pleasure taking his class.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Decisions & Frustrations of the 50's

I grew up in Richmond, CA – a rather rough town.  Sports were the big deal to every young person.  The SF Chronicle Green Sheet listed a full page of baseball games on the weekends.  Every company sponsored a team.  Baseball was everywhere – the Yankees and Oakland Acorns were the ones to follow on the radio.  Bud Foster was an outstanding announcer.

Younger men played in the street.  Two on Two football or we went to an open field and played 15 on 15.  It was tough to be gang tackled by ten or so guys.  Baseball on open lots – everyone played – old guys and little ones. The field had ruts and holes.  Who cared?  We were playing baseball.  Boxing in the back lots of the homes.  Put the gloves on and become Sugar Ray Robinson.  We danced, we were pummeled, but the moves were there.

Study and work.  Every young person had chores.  No t.v. in the beginning.  Work in the morning, come home, work in the evening.  No cars until you were 18 or 20.  Rules were strict and were not to be questioned.  Organized sports at high school levels was very competitive.  Many hours of practice.  One had to wait until they were seniors to play varsity.

I had nowhere to go at the end of my senior year.  But two weeks before graduation, the baseball coach at UC Berkeley invited me to tour the campus.  The tour was led by Matt Hazeltine and Les Richter – two seniors and they were really big.  Richter kept smiling at us- he didn’t have any front teeth.  Wow – go to Berkeley.

All incoming sports players had to play freshman ball.  No jumping to varsity in those days.  There was a lot of difference between an 18 year old kid and a bulked up 22 year old senior. No weight rooms, no trainers.  Either you had the talent or not.  You worked at a manual labor job to harden the body.  No personal training.  We learned by watching players.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Arts & Crafts

Fall color on Wildwood Farm's dogwoods, ginkgos, and maples is building to its peak.  Every year, the intensity and brightness transforms the landscape.  The display never ceases to amaze.

Perhaps, the leaves don’t last long enough for us to get used to the display.  Whether it’s the rain or wind, it seems the leaves drop to the ground just as soon as they turn.  Forgotten for another 11 months.

Unless, that is, you save some. Salvage them from the leaf pile or pick some before they drop.  Choosing a half a dozen or so of the best leaves to ‘press’ saves them for many seasons.  Once they are off the ground and free of moisture, they can be placed between the pages of a book [blogs aren’t great for everything].  Make sure to write the page on the cover so you can find them later with damaging them.  Then, weight down the book to keep constant pressure on the leaves.

During the winter, when there are no fun gardening activities you can personalize greeting cards.  It’s just a matter of arranging the leaves in a pleasing pattern and pressing contact paper over everything.  Easy to do on your own, with friends, or with youngsters.  Experts will say leaves from spring growth are better than those from fall.  Ignore them now for now.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Planting For Spring

There’s nothing more rewarding than cutting all the flowers off of a plant, digging a hole, tamping down manure around the plant, and standing back to admire your handywork, right?

In spring, we get to add veggie starts, showy annuals, and bushes heavy with new growth to our gardens.  Soon after, the plants are reaching for the sun’s rays and practically moving right before our eyes.

Fall is the very opposite.  Perennials are slowing down so we cut back the foliage to force the last ounces of energy into the roots.  Since the soil is still warm, the plant is actually happy to oblige and expand its network of roots.  If you grow on your perennials before planting them in now, it is easy to tell how fast roots grow.  I put a 100 or so 4” Saliva nemerosa East Friesland in gallon containers about 5 weeks ago.  When I removed the containers to plant them, the roots were at the very edge of the container even starting to pile up at the edges.  If you have the time and space, this is a great money saver.

There’s nothing better than winter rains to water in a new transplant too.  For the next few months, it is all about roots.  The payoff will be more flowers to stand back and admire in the spring.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interlude & Back to Yesterday

I took a short break and drove to British Columbia.  I want to ship plants into Canada and this was the first step to acquire permits.  Plus, it’s beautiful country.

Early 1940 - the Japanese were sent to concentration camps during the forties.  Their nurseries were thriving but they had to leave everything.  Two of them asked my father to run their nurseries.  He agreed.  A handshake was sufficient.  In those days, one did not need a cadre of lawyers to write an agreement. Now, he had three nurseries to run – one each in Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond. 

Kaiser shipyards was the big employer in the San Francisco Bay Area then.  People [mostly poor] from all over the country flocked to the area.  Workers earned $2.00 an hour which was sufficient to raise a family.  However, no sick pay, no vacation.  Just work or leave.  Buy a house, buy a car – things were looking up.

The fifties started and another war began – this time in Korea.  More money to be made by killing foreign people on foreign land.  By 1954, the war was coming to a close.  Times were good – everyone made a good living and bought lots of plants.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Peggy Noonan on Gardening?

Peggy Noonan’s column in this weekend’s WSJ opened with a comparison between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.  She contends that the age of Biden and youth of Ryan is the main contrast between the two.  The story details the advantages and challenges for each candidate as they reach out to voters.

The dynamic between Ric and I isn’t adversarial but there is the age, youth contrast.  As we think about reshaping Wildwood, there’s an incredible amount of variation in the course we think the business should take.  Differences in opinions about the look of the gardens/ displays/ inventory take the longest to reconcile.  Of course, these might be the most important!

Generally, Ric takes the position that we should do what we want [no copying others] and people will either appreciate it or they won’t.  Generally, I take the position that meeting people’s expectations for a retail nursery should be our main priority. 

Of course, private gardeners don’t need to worry about undecided gardeners or the general public’s expectations.  They can make their garden their own; their own idea of a retreat, an entertaining space, a magnificent display , or all of the above.

Perhaps, that's why so many gardeners appreciate the collection of plants and gardening style that Ric has developed over the years at Wildwood Farm.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bugs & Energy

My father’s old nursery grounds were covered in sawdust.  Bantam chickens ran loose and ate the bugs under the cans.  A mother and her ten little chicks scratching under the cans were a common sight day in and day out.

Besides the chickens we had bug killers - DDT, lead arsenic and other forms of drop dead liquids.  We did not worry about after effects of the sprays.  We just wanted to kill the bugs that destroyed the plants.

I applied gallons of this stuff.  I have never been sick, I never visited a doctor.  Only now, in my mid seventies, do I have to see a doctor in order to keep my medical insurance.  I don’t have time to get sick.  Our children are getting fat – put them outside and put them to work.

After WWII, there was a fantastic energy in the U.S.  The returning soldiers wanted to live every moment.  Sports was a big energy consumer.  No spectating like today, everyone played.  After all, we had the New York Yankees in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  Sandlot ball where adults and children played together.  Street ball, boxing, bike riding, and street skating, 2 on 2 or 10 on 10 whoever showed up.

Casey Stengal and Billy Martin for the Oakland Acorns.  The DiMaggios at Seal Stadium.  The old wooden stadium in Emeryville, CA.  No longer good enough for us.  Time out for a donut.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fiordaliso di Capraia

This showy perennial is native to the rugged islands of Italy.  The feathery ever-grey, almost white, foliage is the outstanding feature of this plant.  Fluffy purple flowers in the Spring and the foliage alike are great for stylized bouquets as well as neglected areas of your yard. 

Unless you’re desperate for an excuse, don’t book your trip to Sicily ‘to hunt for it’.  The IUCN classifies it as endangered in its native habitat.

Finding Centaurea gymnocarpa [dusty miller] is much easier in Wildwood Farm’s perennial display along Sonoma Highway.  The grey foliage will be even more prominent next spring when neighboring purple salvia blooms.  Remember that white foliage needs color or contrast from surrounding plants to maximize its impact.  This dusty miller is especially fantastic because it has purple flowers, instead of pale yellow ones found on other dusty millers.  Pale yellow might work well with succulents but purple seems best with other perennials.

Even though it’s endangered, we’re not going to coddle our baby Centaurea.  We think it will appreciate weekly watering next summer though!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Planting Playlist

With the onset of fall, the garden chores start to pile up.  On mornings when you know you should head out with the shovel and rake but aren’t quite in the mood, a soundtrack can get the sap flowing.  The trick is to not start out with something too slow [Sting] or something too high octane [Van Halen].  The neighbors or Rufus might frown on that.

It’s hard to go wrong with the likes of:

  • Chuck Berry               Johnny B. Goode
  • Little Richard              Good Golly Miss Molly
  • Fats Domino               Blueberry Hill
  • Lloyd Price                 Stagger Lee
  • Jerry Lee Lewis          Great Balls of Fire
  • Beach Boys                Help me Rhonda

Ric gave an assist on this – apparently, “they’re all great live”. 

I fired up these today when I started planting perennials.  After about 20 minutes, I had to kick it up a notch though.  Who Knew [the remix] salvia are Sunloverz…

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Let's Talk About Poop

Long ago, barnyard manure was adequate for all garden needs.  Pig manure (aged) was the best, followed by horse and cow manure.  Chicken manure was good but it had to be stored for a longer time.

My father kept animals - cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and sheep.  A multi-level barn kept all animals happy and dry.  From the age of 13 to 18 my chore was to clean it twice a week.  My companion was a shovel.  Shovel it to the edge of the second level, throw it on the pick up, drive the pick up to the storing area, and unload it by hand.  Then, pick up fresh sawdust, load it by hand, and unload it in the barn.  The cycle kept repeating itself.  It definitely gave me muscles.

I hauled the finish product to the nursery too.  We sold 2 cubic bags, 3 for a dollar.  We would fill bags of manure by the hundreds.  People loved it.

Fast forward to present day.  No more barnyard manure - it stinks and attracts flies.  People can't stand smell.  Stores have packaged fertilizers.  They smell sweet - the odors must come from France.  Packages are done up in vibrant colors - loud pink, green, yellow, etc.  You can see the package from a mile away.

Today, a PhD qualified master mixes a special blend for your sun, shade, morning, noon - whatever condition has a special blend.  Like the coffee mixes.  Only a PhD can find the minute elements of zinc, gold, or fuchsia to go along with your condition.  Just remember to wash your hands when you're done.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gardening at 60 mph

THE fall planting project at Wildwood Farm illustrates the disconnect between today’s fast paced lifestyle and the slower rhythm of the natural world.

Cars blast past the stretch of property we’re planting at speeds over 60 mph.  The challenge of gardening with limited time will be a theme with Gardening at 60 mph articles in addition to the behind the scene stories on the progress of our ‘storefront display’.

Devoting the same amount or even ½ the time spent on email to your garden can yield enormous dividends.  Changes in your garden and to your plants develop slowly.  Glancing at a plant on your balcony every other day or walking through your flower beds during the week is essential.

Small changes, like a curled leaf, might indicate you need to check your irrigation system before you leave on vacation.  That could be the difference between a dead plant and a healthy plant.  And, the difference between a rewarding gardening experience and a disheartening setback.

Plus, walking 0.6 mph through your garden could be the difference between a blah start to your day and a rosy start.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Introduction to Gardening with Maples

On Saturday, 15 people attended Wildwood Farm’s introductory class on gardening with maples.  The class surveyed different types of maples and discussed how to plant and care for them.

Roots and watering were major topics.  One goal of the class was having people visualize the root system of a tree as it develops from somara to a tree.  One tip is to use the width of the foliage as a measuring stick for the size of the root system.  This is also a cue about where to water the plant.

A tree grown in a container, especially a large tree, has a much smaller root system.  The watering schedule for a newly planted container tree is much different than one grown from seed.  Watering is much more frequent, for shorter durations, and done closer to the trunk.  As new foliage leafs out, this signals that the watering circumference can be widened from the original container diameter.

Large trees will need frequent watering for many [5+] summers before their roots are large enough to withstand hot days on their own.  Maples have many fine feeder roots so a circular spray attachment on a hose or irrigation system is best.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Starting a Family Nursery Business in the 1930's

My father was born in Europe.  He was the oldest of nine brothers and sisters.  He had a scholarship to go to a major university.  His parents told him to go to America to earn money to bring the rest of the family to America.

During the 1930’s, my father worked in an iron smelter in Tormey, CA.  It was a company town.  The family was allowed to live on the right side of the tracks because my mother looked Italian.  In fact, she was Mexican.  I was born in the mid 30’s.  My father had already started a nursery in Berkeley, CA.  Talk about guts.

My mother ran the Berkeley place until she could not handle everything – two little children, answering customer’s questions, and stocking new plants.  She had dropped out of school at thirteen and started working.  The money was needed to support her father and his large family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ground Breaking Work

Today, an all-star cast of gardeners broke ground on the new perennial display planned for Wildwood Farm’s highway frontage. 

The new display will stretch along 200 feet of the property that faces Highway 12 in Kenwood.  The planting design aims to create a year round show of color.  A combination of bulbs, flowering shrubs, and perennials should provide interest through the seasons. 

Ric and I planted 150 Aster frikartii ‘Moench’ in two separate drifts between the Wildwood Farm sign and the entrance to the property.  This Aster is highly regarded in the gardening community.  For starters, it is a hybrid between an Aster from Italy and one from the Himalayans.  So, it’s tough.  It blooms for five months, from May to October.  To round it all off, ‘Moench’ is deer resistant and drought tolerant.  We’re putting it to the test in an area that gets over eight hours of direct sun in the summer.  We think it will pass with flying [lavender blue & yellow] colors.

Of course, we didn’t just roll out of bed and decide to plant 150 perennials today.  As the project unfolds, we’ll share the inspiration, preparation, and ideas that led up to today.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ginkgoes go O to Sunset in October

In June, the Sunset garden editors snapped pictures from all angles of our dwarf Ginkgoes at the Celebration Weekend.  They liked them so much that they squeezed them into the most recent magazine.  They're easy to squeeze into your garden too.

Names like Gnome, Troll, and Munchkin hint at their diminutive size.  Everything about Munchkin, from the leaves to the size of the plant, is tiny.  It is best in a raised setting or in a container so one can appreciate the small stature.  Gnome and Troll have leaves that are much closer to the size of a tree Ginkgo.  The outline of the leaf is much more pleasing than a common Ginkgo as it is evenly rounded and balanced on both sides.  The rate of growth on both plants is faster than Munchkin.

It will take many moons for young dwarfs to add volume to their branching structure though.  Since they are just beginning to enter retail channels, most gardeners should expect to watch their young Ginkgoes grow with the seasons.  We're certainly excited to have them at Wildwood Farm.

As we build our collection, we'll let you know about other outstanding Ginkgo varieties.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Author's Note

Ric submitted an article and I told him it needed a better title - that people often decide to read something based on the title.  He said the article was a bit of history.  I thought it needed to be more specific and/or eye catching.  No response.

So, I read the article and asked him if it was about the unsung heroes of the plant world.  He said 'yeah'  and went on to describe visiting them at their homes and the types of plants they were growing.  Imagine seeing a knockout Sinogrande Rhododendron with huge leaves and bright flowers for the first time - because it wasn't available to the public yet...  I asked him why he didn't put that in the article.

He said, "I have my own style.  I'll write more about them later."  I asked, "why not just write about one person now and others in following articles".  Nope.

Have you ever had this type of conversation with someone about what to plant and where it should go?!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Unsung Heroes of the Plant World

The plant person in the early years of the 20th Century was a self-motivated person.  They loved plants and wanted to share them with other people.  Their work was not a money making endeavor.  Many of them operated out of their homes, in the evening, after finishing their day job.
  • §      Howard Kerrigan was the Azalea king, out of Hayward, CA.
  • §      Louis Gavello from Richmond, CA hybridized many dwarf Escallonias and Hebes.  He never received credit for them.  He sold his patents to the big growers and they celebrated the great discoveries as their own.
  • §     Demoto Nursery in Hayward, CA was owned by an outstanding plant person.
  • §     Peter Shelts was widely known for his magnificent tuberous begonias.
After World War II, many Japanese people emerged as leaders in the plant world.  One example is Frank Ogawa, a major wholesale plant supplier in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He went on to become the mayor of Oakland, CA.

Friday, September 14, 2012

History Tells Us

Recently, California Garden & Landscape History Society members stopped by to tour and hear a presentation about Don McLaren’s [son of John McLaren, designer of SF’s Golden Gate Park] blueprint for Wildwood Farm

Often times, we study the past to gain a better understanding of current events.  While reflecting is important, building something new can be much more rewarding.

Studying books and looking at glossy pictures is fine.  Sooner or later, the shovel is going to have to hit the soil.  And things don't have to get much more complicated than digging.

Just remember to water your plants!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Where am I? I am running down a gravel path.  It is twilight - there is a slight drizzle and I am getting wet.  Where could I be? I brush past soft foliage - some tall and some small.

What is ahead? Do I see something or is it my imagination?  I run into a small pond.  Is it mine or am I lost? Gradually, I begin to recognize things - this is my backyard - the pond, the large stones and the collection of Japanese Maples.  What am I doing out here?

Abruptly, I sit up - my eyes wide open.  Cow-a-bunga and are staring at me.  Their tails wagging - this is a game to them, but it is certainly not to me.  What is going on?

I get up from the bed and walk to a window.  It is dark and drizzling - I peer outside but no me is evident - just my vast collection of Japanese Maples.  I sigh with relief.  Nothing to worry about.  Everything is alright or is it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spotlight on the Shadows

For some time now, Wildwood Farm has been in the shadows of the Valley of the Moon.  As Wildwood emerges from the shadows and unfurls itself, there promises to be plenty of gardening anecdotes and stories.  Ric and Joe will be writing about much more than the number of petals on the ‘flower of the week’. 

This is as much about life as it is about plants.  You can expect to hear about how plants make us feel, how they impact the landscape, and how we experience the outdoors.  It’s about laughter, anticipation, and remembering.  It’s about things that are at the limits of our control. 

It’s about places and feelings that are still a little wild.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where it all started

For years, plants have kept this place a closely guarded secret.  Only the maintenance guy knew about the plant kingdom that ruled from Wildwood Farm.  One day, the maintenance guy took his kid to work.  The kid had lots of fun.  And the kid started telling the maintenance guy how to make Wildwood more exciting.  The plants were indifferent at first, plus the maintenance guy kinda liked the peace and quiet.  Eventually, the plants got bored and told the maintenance guy they needed to spice things up.  75-0-0 wouldn’t do it.  Neither would designer containers.  @birds had told the plants about a new world.  The plants wanted to rule that world too.  So the plants got the kid to connect them to the new world.  Now, the maintenance guy is working double duty in the garden and on the blog.  The blog is a work in progress and the kid’s having lots of fun…