Spring Flowers

In the San Francisco Bay Area, our winter usually ends around Valentine’s Day, or Februrary 14th. This is one of my favorite times of the year since the days are getting longer, yet the air is still cool and moist. Best of all, many trees are putting up extravagant flower shows while the chores and frenzies of spring are still weeks away.

First is one of our best tried-and-true stars: Acacia baileyana with bright yellow mini-balls exuding a subtle violet fragrance. It is said that Acacias are blamed unfairly for allergies since their bloom time overlaps with those of the less conspicuous pollen mongers of grasses. I say we should plant more of these small drought-tolerant trees. (but not the weedy blackwood acacia, A. melanoxylon)

Acacia baileyana

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In Memory of My Old Garden

It has been terribly busy in the last few months since we are moving to a bigger home. We have put up our old home for sale and it is almost certain that it will be sold in the next month or so. When we first bought it in 1999, the backyard was 1000 square feet of bare dirt. My wife and I spent most of our leisure time for more than a year to get it into shape. About eight tons of bad soils were hauled out before new soil, new pavers, and new plants all came in. It seemed like every week there was a pile of something on the driveway, and it was very exciting to see all the changes and progresses. That experience was a major factor for me to make the decision of becoming a landscape designer. It was so much more rewarding than working hard on an engineering project for several months only to see it getting cancelled for some other reasons.

Here are some photos of our garden in the beautiful and wet spring of 2010:

1. One of the frontyard beds completed in 2008 after removing a boring Bradford Pear tree and a small patch of lawn. The big shrub with blue spikes of flowers is Echium candicans ‘Star of Madeira’ and the giant-leafed plant in the back is Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Steroidal Giant’. Both are extremely fast growers.

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New Plants from NorCal Show

Every February I get a nice preview of most of the new things that will show up at our local nurseries by attending the NORCAL trade show in San Mateo Event Center. This one-day program is intended for all the wholesale vendors and suppliers to show their products to retail outlets. Naturally the most important visitors are the buyers from retail nurseries and some of them will place orders on the spot. As a landscape designer, I am also a potential customer and I get to see a lot of cool new garden products such as fountains, containers, tools, etc. However, the plant nut in me is always attracted to those star plants making their debut, and this year we have several noteworthy newcomers.

Acacia Cousin Itt
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First Garden Tour of 2010

Right before the beginning of this week-long barrage of storms, I went on a tour to see a Persian fruit tree nursery (Pars Produce in Alamo, CA) and a hilltop garden in Lafayette. Even though the nursery was messy and had exorbitant prices, they do stock some unique fruit cultivars from Iran. I ended up getting a Saveh Pomegranate and a tart Cherry of Esfahan.

Our next garden, however, is a total gem that covers nine acres of a south-facing slope studded with native oaks. The homeowners are young and energetic, and one of them owns an exotic plant nursery. Naturally his garden has become a trial ground of some of his favorite plants. Here are some snapshots of that wonderland.

Garden Gate with flanking Chamaedorea radicalis

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Christmas Flowers after Freeze

Winter can be dreadful even for USDA Zone 9 gardeners, especially when we saw temperature reading like this in my garden on December 7 (30F, or about -1C). The cold night before means that for the rest of winter we have to look at some damaged leaves, which are said to be better left on for their residual protection against more frost. However, in my case I can not help pruning several subtropicals since too many of them suffered moderate to heavy damage, including Alocasia Caliodora, Hedychium Dr. Moy, Ensete ventricosum Maurelii, Michelia alba, and Brugmansia Miner’s Claim. In the top right photo, a Heliconia scheidiana ‘Fire and Ice’ is doing a little better than a Babaco plant beneath it, which means the former might be one or two degrees hardier. Continue reading

New Ancient Plant Garden

Sorry if there is any confusion, but my topic today is a new garden of ancient plants at the San Francisco Botanical Garden near its north entrance . I happened upon this garden after I took my brother to the California Academy of Sciences last month. Even after a tour that is too brief, I can strongly recommend this little gem to all gardeners for not just its nice collection of exotic plants, but also for its very well designed layout and beautifully constructed hardscape. Here are some of my photos:

Dinosaur foot prints set the mood!

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