Letter from Suzanne Sparacio to the Lamorinda Weekly

“Dear Lamorinda Weekly,

As a Contra Costa College Biology Professor, I wanted to provide a clarification to the article “The Garden Melting Pot” published on March 13, 2024. Cynthia Brian stated “Many revered non-natives have acclimated to our soil, weather, and stressors providing food and refuge for our insects, wildlife, and birds while living in harmony with native species.” While it is true that many non-natives thrive in our ecosystem, it is not necessarily true that they live in harmony with native species. Ecosystems consist of delicate food webs with producers and consumers that have evolved together for thousands of years and non-natives can disrupt this delicate web. Some consumers only survive on a very small selection of native species. I would encourage everyone to plant as many native species as possible.”

Thanks,
Suzanne Sparacio MATSci, PhD
Moraga

https://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1803/Letters-to-the-editor.html

Spring 2024 Plant Sale

[updated Apr 7 2024]

Sales are ongoing, with new items being added often. Use the contact form to email regarding appointments, availability, or any questions. In-person shopping welcome by appointment; I’m near the Orinda / Moraga border.

I’m sold out of orchid divisions (Dedrobium, Pleurothallis, Dendrochillum) until I can divide, repot, and establish more plants. I’ll post info here when they’re available. You can also email me via the Contact link over there on the right, and I’ll add you to an update mailing list.
 
Aechmea caudata: 
Bromeliad. Bare root ($25 to $40). Happiest planted in the ground; thrive in pots, but will be needing division each spring/summer. Many offsets! Prolific “candy corn” inflorescences on long spikes. Strong indirect light is best.

Vriesea fenestralis x Vriesea gigantea ‘Nova’ (? parentage uncertain): 
Bromeliad; rare. $50. = Hardy to about 35 degrees; lower than that, cover with frostcloth and move closer to the house. No direct sun, dappled shade is best. I don’t recommend planting in the ground unless you live in Oakland/Berkeley, etc. Prolific offsets. Does not flower for me. Wonderful foliage plant.

Furcraea longaeva
Succulent. 4” seedlings $4.00. Grows into massive plant with Agave-type habit. Moncarpic.

Bilbergia nutans “Queen’s Tears”: 
Bromeliad. .25 each tank, or free with purchase.

Echinopsis chamaecereus (“Peanut Cactus”)
Succulent. 4” offsets $4.00.

Aloe arborescens variegata / Candelabra aloe:
Succlent. 5 gallons in plastic: $25 to $40.

Sauromatum venosum (common name: Voodoo Lily):
Arum (corms).$15 to $35 in various pots. Each pot includes at least 3 corms; most, more. These are dormant until June 2024. Keep sheltered and dry-ish until then.
 
Opuntia monocantha (variegated):
Succulent. $10 in terracotta. $7 in plastic.

Succulent offsets – various sizes and prices; inquire.

Licensed to sell nursery stock in Contra Costa County by the state of California.

Nancy Chenoweth (1936 – 2023)

I met Nancy via a Zoom presentation with the Montelindo Garden Club in spring, 2021. I was demonstrating how to divide and repot Cymbidium orchids. Nancy contacted me soon after, saying “I see you work with bamboo. I have a bamboo problem. Can you help?”

Nancy lived about a two-minute drive from me; it was hard to say no.

She did, indeed, have a running bamboo problem, a massive 60 x 15-foot grove bordering the seasonal creek behind her home. It was sending underground tentacles toward the house, under stands of juniper, rhododendrons, azaleas, and a massive weeping cherry, and towards neighbors on either side.

I’m still working on it.

Nancy also had a front and backyard filled with spectacular specimen plants, all non-native, consisting of a multitude of focal points, including around 60 container plants on her vast backyard deck — the latter all requiring hand-watering multiple times a week during the summer. The deck’s arbor groaned under the largest wisteria I have ever seen, a vast bulk of flowering biomass attempting to pull down the chimney on the adjacent roof.

Her collection of Japanese maples was dizzying, both as established landscape trees, as well as container specimens.

Nancy was an impulse buyer. She’d see a plant at a nursery, and fall in love with it, without regard of having any particular location in mind for it.

The she’d bring it home and tell me to find a place for it.

Nancy had employed a gardening team for a few years, but the crew leader wasn’t easy to work with, and was, sometimes, argumentative, most likely about the relentless acquisitions. I tried to work with him, but felt he resented my presence. Nancy fired him him early in 2023, and asked me to take over all work in her yard.

Nancy always had something for me to do. We argued about her maples, and how, and when to prune them. She’d purchase exotic and pricey dwarf conifers, then procrastinate about their disposition, and I would need to water them three or four times a week during heatwaves.

She asked me to prune a spectacular, established, windswept black pine, and the delicate, low-growing, manicured juniper surrounding it, both arrayed in the manner of a Japanese garden.

I had never worked with plants like this, at such a level. It was a challenge.

Nancy always trusted me.

Her trust motivated me, and made me a better gardener.

Nancy was more than a client. She was a good friend. She was born and raised in Illinois, as were my parents, and embodied so many of the admirable character traits of people from the midwest.

Working with her was a collaborative process, based in research, communication, patience, and, always, trust.

Plants brought her joy, even as her health declined, and my job was ensure the yard and deck remained a familiar source of joy. I never felt any pressure, only shared happiness, and satisfaction. And, although neither of us would ever feel her yard was perfect, or “done,” working with Nancy was always rewarding.

The photo above was taken in late July, when Nancy was in hospice for pancreatic cancer.

Just before the photo was taken, she grabbed my hand. and squeezed it.

It was the last time I saw her.

A Year from Now, Gas-Powered Leaf Blower Sales Will Be Banned in California. But….

The back of the truck after a typical Tuesday. Ryobi 40v battery blower at lower right.
On July 1, 2024, the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal in California.

Gardeners and homeowners will still be able to operate gas blowers purchased before that date. Sale of used leaf blowers will be legal.

Some will buy new gas-powered blowers on places like ebay, and travel to, say, Nevada (where they’ll likely also buy illegal fireworks) to purchase banned units, and return home to pollute the atmosphere and annoy neighbors.

I work outside an average of five hours a day, including weekends. I immediately notice when I can’t hear any leaf blowers (or chainsaws).

It hardly ever happens. When it does, it’s like … getting out jail. Noise jail.

Gas blowers are popular because mow-and-blow crews are paid by the month. The more clients they pack into a day, the more they earn. Rakes and brooms take time, and energy. Some crews charge clients more for not using leaf blowers.

This piece illuminates many of the health dangers involved with gas-powered leaf blowers.

One thing this article doesn’t address is a different type of hydrocarbon pollution. In Lamorinda, we’re surrounded by the 24 and 680 highways, as well as CA13 over the hill to the west. There’s also, of course, increasing traffic on Moraga Way and Moraga Rd, and other thoroughfares. Particulate exhaust hydrocarbons drift, and land on the ground. These particulates join insect offal, bird crap, and excrement from other animals.

It’s all on the ground.

And it’s being blown up into the air in a whirling, 200+ mph vortex.

I use a battery-powered Ryobi 40v leaf blower every day, and have for five years. It’s powerful enough for my and my client’s needs. 95% of the time it’s used on hardscape; I do my best to avoid using it on dirt / vegetation. I wear an N95 mask nearly all the time while using it. I’ll wear goggles for extended work. It’s not so loud I need ear protection.

Some local governments are banning blowers completely. I could deal with such a ban; it’d make my job harder, but I wouldn’t complain.

The California law is a start, but it doesn’t have the necessary teeth to solve the problem.

Gas leaf blowers need to be banned, outright.

Al Kyte Q&A during Zoom presentation for this year’s Bringing Back the Natives virtual tour

Over the past three years, I’ve been my privilege and pleasure to work weekly with Al Kyte in his amazing native garden in Moraga. Al has retired from the annual tour, but this video (recorded for the 2022 virtual tour) will be aired again this Sunday, April 16, at 2:30 Pacific time, and Al will be available for Q&A via Zoom following the broadcast. You can sign up for the Zoom session at the link under the video. Hope to see you there.

https://www.bringingbackthenatives.net/agenda-and-welcome-to-the-2023-online-event

An Open Letter to Lamorinda Weekly

Lamorinda Weekly is one of my neighborhood’s local papers. Its print run is 26,000, and it appears in the driveway of nearly everyone in Lamorinda each week.

Cynthia Brian has a gardening column in every issue. It’s generally harmless, chatty, and packed with Cynthia’s descriptions of her garden, and prominent promotion of her books and various other pursuits.

At least once a month, she prints inaccurate information, and/or plain bad gardening advice. Usually I laugh it off, or post a brief rant on these pages, but sometimes the issues need to be addressed in a more public manner. Customers used to come in to Moraga Garden Center and ask me about something they read in her column. I would do my best to be constructive, and related the correct info, and/or lead them towards a more appropriate plant than one she recommended.

However, in Brian’s December 7 column, she included a line that was wrong on a couple levels. Since at least one of those levels involved wildlife habitat — something very important to me — I decided, finally, to write a letter to Lamorinda Weekly regarding the column.

Lamorinda Weekly declined to publish the letter, and, instead, forwarded it to Cynthia Brian.

She emailed me with a response that was equal parts gracious and inadequate.

I’ll spare you her reply, but my original letter to the Weekly follows.

I always read Cynthia Brian’s “Goddess Gardener” column with interest, if only to spot the inaccuracies  — and sometimes just plain bad advice — that regularly pops up. Imagine my surprise when Bryan made the following declaration in her December 7th column:

“The merry berry bushes of nandina, cotoneaster, and pyracantha were chock full of fiery red fruit favored by wildlife.”

It is widely known, and confirmed by gardening and wildlife experts, that Nandina (common name: Chinese bamboo) berries contain cyanide, and are toxic to many birds, including local species such as robins, western bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. I dissuade my clients from buying Nandina, and, if it exists in their gardens, I insist on cutting off all berries as soon as they appear.

Further, most Cotoneaster and, especially, all Pyracantha are extraordinarily invasive. Few local nurseries sell them, and if they do, they should be asked to stop. These nuisances spread uncontrollably and can outcompete native plants — and there are so many beautiful and easy-care natives that are better for wildlife: Salvia, Rhamnus californica (coffeeberry), Ribes species (currants), Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon)… the list goes on and on.

Please do your readers a service, and help inform and educate. Getting the information right goes a long way to achieve this.

Paul Ashby/Dobie Meadows Gardening
Orinda, CA

Cold. Extended Cold.

It seems odd we’re faced with so many early mornings under 40 degrees before we’ve hit mid-November. We have the first frost advisory of the season extending to the weekend.

I can’t recall having 7 mornings in a row at 38 degrees or lower this early in November.

Many things are still very wet from the downpours of the past six or seven days. If you have container plants with saucers, drain the saucers as soon as convenient. I can’t think of any container plants that’ll require saucers between now and April.

I’m moving potted orchids, container fruit trees, and non-hardy bromeliads closer to the house, and have dusted off the frostcloth.

Those early-September days of 110 degrees seem very far away.

 

 

ONGOING PLANT SALE IN ORINDA – BY APPOINTMENT

[The sale was a success! and a lot of fun. Thanks to all who dropped by. All the plants described below are still for sale — some, now, in limited quantities. Contact me at the email address in bold, below, if you’d like to visit and browse available plants.]

The above photo is from May 2022. This is the tropical portion of my backyard.

Yes, I have too many plants.

Watering all my container plants, especially, has become problematic — especially considering EBMUD’s new restrictions. I’m thinning the herd.

I’ll be selling select potted and bare-root vegetation in a cul-de-sac adjacent to the Ivy Drive neighborhood (Moraga/Orinda border), from 11:30am until around 1:30pm on Saturday, July 16. Email paul at dobiemeadows dot com for directions. There will be shade, just in case in turns out to be another 100-degree day.

I’ve propagated and raised the plants myself. They’re fertilized, in appropriate soil, and well-tended. I’ve been growing ornamentals, tropicals, natives, vegetables, and seedlings for myself and my clients for years, and have a California license to sell plants —  the side yards and backyard of my home have been transformed into a nursery!  I spend most Sundays working on seeds, cuttings, offsets, and propagation.

If these sell out, I’ll probably have more of most of them in another month or two; look for more sales as summer progresses.

Cash (exact change is always wonderful) and Venmo only, please.

No holds. First come, first served.

All plants (except cuttings and bare-root, as noted) are in either plastic or terra cotta pots. All pots included with purchased plants. Please bring plastic or newspaper or the like to cover your car seats/trunk.

===============================

Here’s what’s available:

Aloe arborescens variegata / Candelabra aloe:

These are two feet to a bit over three feet tall. $25 to $40. They sell at places like Dry Garden, Bancroft, and Flora Grubb for $50 to $85. These are well-rooted cuttings from an enormous 5-foot tall, 4-foot wide potted plant I bought as a one-gallon at Dry Garden circa 1998 (!). I can no longer move the pot without a handcart and an assistant, so I’ve resorted to cutting off stems, callusing them off, and sticking in succulent soil. The cuttings thrive. The more sun you give it, the more variegated it becomes. It blooms reliably in late winter, and has survived over a dozen Lamorinda frosts with nothing but one layer of frostcloth when temps dip below 35. Can grow in the ground if you keep it near the house or establish it before a mild winter or two; corners with southwestern exposure are best.

Aechmea caudata: 

Two in pots; one each in plastic and terracotta) ($25 to $35), some bare root ($15 to $25). Beautiful, hardy bromeliad with sawtooth (ouch!) leaves and arching candy-corn inflorescences each spring. Will establish quickly and grow impressively in the ground. Has repeatedly survived winters in my backyard down to 25 degrees, but I cover with frostcloth when it gets below freezing. These are big, healthy offsets from a monster plant I bought from Kenny at Moraga Garden Center in 2015. They just keep growing and growing, until I have too many to manage. They enjoy dappled shade, but will take on dramatic coloring if given a little more sun (watch for leaf bleaching if they get too much light). Pictured: mother plant (not for sale) in the ground.

Vriesea fenestralis x Vriesea gigantea ‘Nova’ (?): 

That question mark denotes I’m not positive of the parentage. One thing I’m sure of — this is a gorgeous bromeliad, striking, and *huge*. These get 4 feet tall by four feet wide, and even bigger if you put them in the ground with good drainage in filtered sunlight. A decidedly dominant houseplant specimen, if you have the room — a conservatory focal point that will wow everyone who sees it.

Caveats: Leaf yellowing/bleaching will occur if given too much sun. Frost protection necessary under 35 degrees; I keep them near the house and cover in winter when the chill clamps down. I bought the mother plant in Kaua’i in 2006, and, it’s now too big to move…I’ve gotten at least ten healthy plants from pups. This is a prolific specimen! I have never had these flower, but they’re monocarpic — after they flower, they die. But they push out many pups before expiring.

Tiny, 10-inch offsets of these from Florida growers on Etsy and eBay go for $25 to $40. I’m selling these large (3 to 4 feet tall), established plants in terra cotta for $50 to $85. A bargain! Above photos are of larger plants, not for sale. Yours would be roughly 1/2 to 1/3rd the size.

Neoregelia cruenta

Much like the above two in care. Dark green, sawtooth leaves with red tips.

If desired, I can give a primer on how to divide and propagate the offsets/divisions of the above bromeliads. They’re easy. These grow in trees in their native habitat, and will do so in Lamorinda if you mount them in a crook and give them some frost protection in winter.

(Warning regarding Aechmea, Vriesea, and Neoregelia: these are hydrated by keeping water in the cups/”tanks”. Water the soil every 10 days or so — the roots are only for anchoring; no moisture or nutrition is taken up from the roots.  If kept outside, mosquito control may be necessary. I use BT granules (“Mosquito bits”) like the ones put in ponds and standing water).

Sauromatum venosum (common name: Voodoo Lily):

These perennial corms are tropical plants in the Arum family. In the fall they yellow, I cut them back, and stash the pots in a cool, dry place, and forget about them. In late April I take the pots out, top with compost and balanced fertilizer, put them in the sun, and water them daily. By June they put up beautiful, arching, lush foliage that sways in the breeze. Best in filtered light, but will also thrive in deep shade. In terra cotta, but glazed ceramic is recommended in order to keep them appropriately moist. Easy to divide the corms, and each year the plants get bigger, with more corms / sprouts. Can overwinter in the ground. Poisonous. Some pots have 3 or 4 individual plants; $15 to $25.

Nicotiana alata:

I have three. Tobacco family, white flowers; sticky, skunky leaves. These self-seed and will spread to nearby pots/ground, but they’re as easy to pull and control as they are to propagate. Two in terracotta, one in a plastic nursery container. In flower; stalks benefit from being staked, especially in windy locations. Poisonous (deer hate them). When they begin looking ratty/leggy, cut them back, fertilize, and they’ll come roaring back before November, when they go to sleep. $20.

Opuntia monocantha (variegated):

These are cuttings in 1 gallon plastic pots. Classic spiny cactus with a striking, mottled green / cream presentation. Folks online offer 4″ pots for $12. I’m selling the gallons for $7.

 

 

Also:

* Bilbergia nutans “Queen’s Tears” offsets. Easy; beautiful, multicolored firecracker flowers in late spring. Divisions, bare root (not potted as in photo). .25 cents per tank. These will grow in the crooks of trees in Lamorinda. See Bromeliad warning (above) regarding mosquitos.

* Various potted succulents, most VERY spiny/pokey, from 1 gallon to 5 gallon, various prices; all inexpensive.  Some will not have tags. Some may be barely rooted and require support, or can be picked up at a later date once established. I’ll help you load them into your vehicle; bring heavy gloves and maybe newspaper to wrap/hold/unload.

* Plus some other surprises! F’rinstance: small terra cotta pots ‘n saucers aplenty.  Other stuff!

Come and browse, or just drop by and we can geek out about cool plants.