Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I use the term renovation over pruning when referring to a job that initially looks pretty drastic rather than just a few cuts to improve the shape of a tree or shrub.

My first experience with such a task was when I interned at Filoli Center. We took the large laurel hedge back to "sticks" in the cutting garden. There were few leaves left to speak of. As far as my job satisfaction was concerned, I didn't feel like I accomplished much. Accodring to my eyes and what I learned about pruning in my studies, it was ugly. But, like a house renovation, there needs to be some "gutting" before the final vision is realized. I returned a year later once the new growth flushed out and saw what we did resulted in a well-controlled formal hedge.

Now, this is similar to what I had to do with my fig tree in the front yard this fall. I dreaded it--avoided it--especially with a possibly of an audience. There is no where to hide when I'm working out there. And since I'm also a professional gardener, I wonder what people think as they watch what I'm doing; fearing they're calling Plant Amnesty on me. But I knew if I did nothing, it would only be a bigger problem later on.

Last year, I had a couple of friends help me take it back a few feet. They are tree pruning professionals (arborsists) and could reach the branches better than I could with my eight-foot ladder. They could had taken more out, but I didn't blame them for being cautious.

Two afternoons later and three full large green waste cans later, I have a more manageable tree. I don't recommend this type of pruning for any tree. I know fig trees can take a hard pruning. I probably sacrificed next summer's fig crop, but I think the tree will be better for it overall. Plus, maybe with less fruit to pick from, it will fall off the starlings' radar. One can only hope!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Delights--Part 2

I'm super excited my tah tsai (pronounced "tatsoi") is coming back after slugs almost completely devoured them. I took drastic measures and surrounded the tiny plot with copper snail tape. Kinda funky looking, but hey, it's working!

I love the way this plant looks. It's like a miniature baby bok choy with shorter petioles (that's the leaf's stem) and a more compact leaf blade. Super cute! And looks super tasty.

As you can see, I didn't bother grooming the leaves attacked by slugs for this photo shoot.

The days are quickly growing shorter and colder. I hope the plants continue to grow. I hear that tah tsai is super cold-hardy and can even be harvested under snow. We shall see!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kiwi Berries!

An on-going question I ask my garden is, "What have you done for me lately?" I have been asking my Parthenocissus quinquefolia this ever since we moved into our house six years ago. The Virginia creeper is known for its amazing displays of fall color which I have yet to see.

I've been thinking of what I could replace this vine with. My foremost requirement being something I can eat from the garden. Maybe golden hop vine? A hardy kiwi perhaps?

Well, it turns out this year my Virginia creeper looks amazing. I've never seen it turn this color before. Usually, it turns a dull brown and drops its leaves. This is what remains after last night's downpour.

I don't talk to my plants directly, but they seem to know when they may be destined to the compost heap. Thank you for the fall color! You've been spared this year.

On the opposite side of the garden is another clothesline support. The last couple of years, I have grown scarlet runner and purple pole beans. While I have enjoyed these, the space demands something a little more permanent. I thought back to my two options. I was leaning towards the kiwi berry since I need something that will compete with the bamboo sneaking under the fence from the alley. The golden hop vine seemed less vigorous. While I like the look of the hop vine, I wasn't about to take up brewing.

Before committing to a kiwi berry in my garden (also known has hardy kiwi, arctic kiwi, baby kiwi, dessert kiwi and cocktail kiwi), I tried them again. I remember they tasted a bit strange to me when I first discovered them at Berkeley Bowl about 10 years ago.

I was pleasantly surprised this time: a little tart and a little sweet with the essence of kiwi flavor in a bite-sized berry the size of a grape. Yes! This will be the newest addition to my garden.

Before getting my hopes up, I called City People's to see check their availability. I knew I was taking a chance this late in the season and a somewhat odd request. They told me they had both the straight species (Actinidia arguta) and the 'Issai' variety. I went with the 'Issai' since it's self-fertile, meaning I don't need two plants to produce fruit; a big plus for my small garden. And, my one-gallon plant was 40% off. Yay!

I set up the trellis against the old clothesline structure and planted my new kiwi berry on its center.

I lucked out on a sunny day followed by enough rain that evening to water in my new plant. Hopefully, my plan for out competing the bamboo and providing tasty kiwi berry snacks works out!