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.