Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for the ‘edibles’ Category

Lemon Zesting Rodents?

In one of the gardens where I’m working this summer, all of the citrus have had the peels eaten away by some kind of animal. I’ve never seen this before; it looks really strange. The garden is near Berkeley’s so-called ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ in a relatively urban neighborhood that probably has some rats lurking about. Do rats do this? Do they like lemon zest? It doesn’t look like something squirrels or birds would do, and I can’t think of anything else that would do this.

— Update 8/30 — I asked at one of the nurseries and someone there said, yep, it was rats. Kind of gross.

Changes to the Veggie Garden

This weekend I pulled out our summer veggies and started most of our winter plants. It was a little late to be taking things out; our basil was starting to brown from the cold, the green beans were being eaten by a pest, and the zucchini was still healthy but had slowed its production. (I had planned to wait until we finished our garden shed, but that project has gotten more ambitious and is taking longer than I expected. The shed will be very cool when it’s finished, but for now it’s just at that tantalizing phase where we can see what it will be like but can’t yet use it.) After five winters at this garden, everything this winter will be plants we’ve grown before — favas, snap peas, beat greens, chard, kale, broccoli, parsley, radishes. There’s less of it this year, as our veggie garden has been slowly turning into a fruit garden, with blueberries, huckleberries, currants, and strawberries now filling up the edges

The other change from past winters is the stone edging on three of the four beds. In August, I pulled out the old scrap wood edging I built five years ago and I replaced it with scrap stone from several recent projects. Some of the stone is a little small and raggedy on the backsides of the beds, but overall I had good stuff to work with and it was fun working with four different kinds of stone in one little area. I came up one stone short with the cabernet wall and I bought the two corner stones to use with the beige sandstone, but it was a near-perfect quantity with about eight of the little bluestone squares leftover and nothing else. The saw-finished sandstone is more contemporary than I would have chosen for our garden, but I really like it.

Without the zucchini it looks a little bare and and in need of more tidying, but the stone just makes it so much better.

Starting Up

The Garden

I took some photos of the garden on Wednesday during a break in the weather. Something about the light misting rain made everything look like spring had begun. The foliage on the plants was green and happy, and now today, three days later, a number of new plants are in bloom. The first Sisyrinchiums opened, the first of the species Tulips, the first Oxalis cultivar, the first of the Bearded Irises, and the first Cal Poppies on the block opened next door, with ours sending up buds. I was wondering if the warm dry January might have brought an early spring, but looking at a post from last year it seems that the plants are leafing out on a similar schedule, and looking at last year’s March bloom day post I think the bloom times are nearly the same. I’ll be able to compare on bloom day, and I’ll probably do a post later this month when more things have leafed out.

Favas, Parsley, Chard

The veggie garden liked the February weather, the alternating rain and sun, and the abundance of worm juice produced by the rain. The favas were planted earlier this year, and as a result are blooming earlier too.


Our shadiest bed is now devoted to three blueberries and chaotic mix of Yerba Buena with reseeding Miner’s Lettuce, Mache, and Cal Poppies.

Rocoto Pepper

I havent been giving the Rocoto Pepper enough credit for its ornamental value. The peppers have been the most consistently bright thing in the garden all winter. There used to be more of them on the plant, but the last couple of storms have knocked a lot of them to the ground and we’ve been of course harvesting them. The red ones are hot, so we rarely use more than one of them in a single dish. Last winter the plant went mostly deciduous, but this year it didn’t drop any leaves. If it were rising out of a denser planting it would look great.

Rocoto Pepper

New Zealand Tree Fuchsia and Tasmanian Tree Fern

The New Zealand Tree Fuchsia has about a dozen flowers but they have the same green to red coloring as the leaves and you can’t see them unless you’re up close. It had flowers for last months bloom day, but I didn’t notice them.

Ribes sanguineum, Colocasia Black Magic

I like how the Ribes looks with the Colocasia and the bamboo. A lot of the woodland natives look rather tropical when surrounded by all of the bamboo in our garden.

Ninebark Leafing Out

The ninebark leafed out after the Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’ in the shade but before the seed-grown Ribes sanguineum in the sun. The Ribes sanguineum opened its first flower yesterday.

Tulipa saxatilis

And its nice to see the first of the species Tulips opening. They are a week earlier than last year, but I think that’s because they are naturalized this year. Last year was the first time I planted them and they have about doubled in number. Pretty nice.

Lawn to Veggie Garden


Before -- June

‘Having a casual, wild, productive, diverse, beautiful vegetable garden is frankly a lot more fun than watering and mowing and pouring pesticides on our lawns.’ Fritz Haeg

Another collection of photos from last year, shots of a lawn-to-vegetable-garden conversion we did. Before this one, we hadn’t had good success installing veggie gardens for clients. We’ve incorporated them into larger designs and helped with ideas for the layout and so forth, and a lot of our clients have already had an area of veggies somewhere in their yards, but the couple of veggie gardens that we had personally installed and planted just ended up being neglected and later converted to ornamentals. Veggie gardens seem to require a certain amount of personal involvement and DIY spirit; you have to really want to go out and dig and weed and plant, and the sweat equity of the installation seems to be part of the motivation for following through and making it a success. Anyways, with this garden we did the layout and the lawn conversion around the beds, and left the installation and planting of the veggie beds to the client. It was a lot of fun to go back and see what got planted and to hear about the harvests.

After -- Late June

After -- Late June

The installation was actually pretty simple and easy. We dug out a little bit of the grass in the corner near the gate, but for the most part we left the lawn in place and just put the paths, boxes, and plantings on top of it, laying weedcloth in the places where we wanted gravel, cardboard where we wanted plants or veggie boxes. The clumps that we did dig out we buried at the bottom of the raised beds underneath cardboard. None of the grass has come back, without using any chemicals or hauling any of the grass to the dump.

Late June

The raised beds are prefabbed from a company in Oregon, just plopped down on top of the lawn and filled with soil. The client is a good carpenter and would have normally built the boxes himself, but the logistics of the project were much easier with them ready-made. It’s a pretty slick design (the boards are modular, the pins that hold the boards in place can also serve to anchor hoops or stakes, the wood is a rot-resistant hardwood) and installation took only a couple of hours, one of those things where it’s easy to copy the design but even easier to just buy it. A nice aspect of this site was that putting the veggie boxes on the diagonal made them orthogonal to north.





December -- Favas Newly Planted in the Front Bed

There’s an architect, Fritz Haeg (he has a blog while he is in Rome on a fellowship), who has made lawn-to-veggie-garden conversions a big focus of his career. He has a book, Edible Estates, Attack on the Front Lawn, and there’s an interview on the ASLA blog from shortly after I did this project. Clearly, he doesn’t work in deer country, or his attack would include 8-foot-high fences, but it’s great to see someone really promoting the idea of changing lawn to edibles as a political, cultural, and environmental act.

A Pepper for the Fog

Rocoto Pepper

Rocoto Pepper

I think I’ve mentioned before that our garden is in one of the foggier micro-climates of the Bay Area, so a lot of the classic summer veggies are hard for us to grow. A few things like peppers and tomatoes are too important to give up on, so we’ve tried different varieties to find out what might work best. We seem to have found the right pepper for our garden. We’ve been getting a bumper crop of peppers from our Rocoto, Capsicum pubescens, sometimes known as the Peruvian Tree Pepper.
It doesn’t seem to need the heat that other peppers do. It’s our third year since we bought it as a 4″ at Annie’s. The first year I just potted it up, no fruit. The second year, after I transplanted it into the garden in the spring, it looked unhappy for several months, and then recovered at the end of the summer to put out maybe two dozen small peppers. This year we’ve had all-we-can-eat peppers since mid-June, and the plant shows no sign of slowing. We’ve been harvesting them green, when they have a nice pepper flavor and medium heat; three or four green ones in a sauce make it noticeably hot, but not fiery. A lot of people wait until they turn red and very hot, but not me. My stomach still remembers a plate of stuffed and baked ones that I ate in Peru thirteen years ago.
So far, I’ve just let it grow without pruning or shaping, and it has become a leggy seven footer without much ornamental presence. I’ve seen bushier, self-supporting ones in sunnier sites, but ours definitely needs the bamboo poles to keep it upright.

Our Rocoto staked to a Bamboo Tepee

Our Rocoto staked to a Bamboo Tepee

There’s a devoted website, rocoto.com, by a Bay Area enthusiast, with recipes and photos and info about growing them.

Our Winter Vegi List

Folks in Anita’s winter vegi classes were interested in what specific varieties to grow, so I thought I’d post the list of what we’re growing in our Richmond Annex (fog belt, zones 9b and 17) garden for this winter. Everything we’re growing is a variety that we’ve done at least one of the past three winters here, which seems a little boring and unadventurous, but should produce reliably.

    Favas Beans
    Snap Peas ‘Cascadia’
    Beat Greens “Lutz Salad Leaf’
    Romaine Lettuce ‘Freckles’
    ‘De Cicco’ Broccoli
    Yellow Onion Sets
    Garlic ‘Nootka Rose’
    Kale ‘Dwarf Blue Curled’ and ‘Dinosaur’
    Mustard ‘Red Giant’
    Miner’s Lettuce

A pretty standard list, everything reliable. Alpine Strawberries, a Rocoto Pepper, Regular and Garlic Chives, and a couple of Blueberries are the year-round residents. We’re still harvesting Celery, Leeks, and Zucchini’s, and we’ll probably plant out more Snap Peas and Kale or maybe Rainbow Chard in those spots in February.

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