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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Roof Garden

 Posted by PicasaAfter reading about green roofs, naturally wanted to cover everything in sight with green roofs. This proved somewhat impractical. However, nothing daunted, found a  a dormer window  which offered a perfect experimental area for a roof garden. This window faces due west, facing an area about 6 x 7 which covered by  normal composition roof, reflects an astonishing amount of heat into a study. The plants in the photo are the materials: sedum, barrel cactus, kalanchoe and echeverias.
The roof garden was started, though not yet finished--only 2 feet of the space was covered. Then it rained, and rained, and rained. Bliss.
The experiment continues.......because most of the green roofs have been done in Europe, using sempervivums as the basic plant material. Unless you plant to irrigate your green roof with rain birds as the Huntington Garden does, plants having more prolonged  heat resistance becomes essential as the basic planting material. Cacti and succulents from our deserts and Mexico are good candidates. (To be continued.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Vienna green roofs with trees

See what can be done with a green roof if you have a Viennese imagination, and a forward looking mind. "The roof of one apartment is the garden of the next .." (Nigel Dunnett)

Hundertwasser-Haus was built in 1988 before we  in the U.S  had heard of carbon footprints, heat islands in cities,the contamination by run-off .

 Embarrassing to say, be we lag badly in our address to the problems created by in-fill in our cities. Below  is Hundetrwasser-Haus in Vienna (the photo is from the Hundertwasser-Haus archive)

According to Nigel Dunnett, this building set off a revolution in green roofs in Germany and Central Europe.You can see why- imaginative, practical,  whimsical  and people oriented. No mid-century minimalism going on here. (Do minimalists like trees? Orchids, and dramatic large-leafed dracaenas in giant pots--of course. But slightly loopy looking trees acting like trees---somehow I don't think so.)

Posted by Picasa   Here in So Cal we are struggling with both  drought and run-off. 75% of the water from rain runs off. 75%!!!
Green roofs catch the water, hold it, evaporate it slowly so it becomes rain again. The idea and efficacy of green roofs goes back-- literally--- to the Babylonians "hanging gardens" which worked the same way as the roof gardens of Hundertwasser-Haus.

Why can't we get with the program? It's not that hard--developers will co-operate if it is to their financial interest to do so on new urban  buildings. In Europe there's usually a trade--one or more condo or apartments allowed for green roof and solar power.This allows the developer a higher return on his investment, prevents heat islands developing as a result of new building, cuts down on the run-off problem, the carbon foot-print, etc.  So why are we dithering around ?The California legislature is enough to drive you mad, but even they would go for an idea that both environmentalists and money men could agree upon

 If you think green roofs are a good idea--tell your reps!  Tell Lois Capps, and the  the governor! Tell Obama! Tell everyone you can think of.  Become a green roof fanatic. The Squeaky Wheel .... you know the rest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stretching Succulent from noun to adjective

In the bowl- first crop June           --                                   In the basket- second crop -mid January

These apples, Anna and Dorsett Gold produce lovely, succulent fruit in So Cal gardens. On the Central Coast they can, and do, bear 2 crops a year if not pruned until Feb.
Anna , an Israeli hybrid, and Dorsett Gold as described by Pacific Groves: on their website:

“DORSETT GOLDEN - Resembles Golden Delicious with yellow skin and red cheek. Flesh is firm, smooth and crisp with a sweet-tart flavor. Large, vigorous tree. A low-chilling (100 hours) apple that does very well in warm winter climates. Pollinates well with Anna. Ripens June-early July. (Early/self fertile)

ANNA - Large, yellow apple with red blush and sweet, mild flavor. Excellent low-chilling variety (150 hours) from Israel. Heavy producer and stores well. Ripens mid-June to early July. Does best with Dorsett Golden. (Early/self fertile).”

Dorsett is a bigger tree than Anna, bears very heavily. Anna’s fruit is tart/crisp with a little more character. Both make delectable applesauce with the smaller fruit from the second crop.

These are apples for negligent gardeners. Lived cheerfully in 5 gallon pots for 2-3 years. Planted in the ground, took off and began bearing immediately. Don’t seem to have any pests. Get a fair amount of water in the summer from a dahlia bed in front of them, no other water or fertilizer. Haphazard pruning.The most demanding work involved with Anna and Dorsett is harvesting the crop--- they are the zucchinis of the fruit world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sedums and sempervivums used in green roofs

Posted by PicasaThis is Sedum acre whose chartreuse foliage would make it a winner in the garden on its' looks alone. But there's more. It makes a great groundcover in So Cal, as well as being an ingredient in some green roofs. It's tough--hardy to 5 degrees.
It's descriptive label acre refers to the "biting" quality of the leaves. S. acre is also called Wallpepper and Biting Stonecrop. Folk remedies using the leaves are astonishing. It is used for everything from curing  corns to epilepsy. You can also dry the leaves and use them as pepper. S. acre originates in the Balkans where it is being seriously studied as a promising medicinal plant. The Italians use s. acre to heal sores, the Greeks as an abortifacient . (Don't try this at home ) Do try it around another larger succulent as an accent. The color is great with blue green aloes.

Desert Rose is another sedum that lends itself to pots, hanging baskets, and filling in between larger succulents as a ground cover---an alternative to rocks or sand which creates a lush effect without using  water.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Action in Sacramento- Good news for Californians

There's more good news from the business/political world on the green front:
"Newly constructed hospitals, schools, shopping malls and homes in California will be some of the greenest in the world, after a state commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the most stringent, environmentally friendly building code standards of any state in the nation. The new code, dubbed Calgreen, will take effect next January and requires builders to install plumbing that cuts indoor water use, divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills to recycling, use low-pollutant paints, carpets and floorings and, in nonresidential buildings, install separate water meters for different uses. It mandates the inspection of energy systems by local officials to ensure that heaters, air conditioners and other mechanical equipment in nonresidential buildings are working efficiently. And it will allow local jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, to retain their stricter existing green building standards, or adopt more stringent versions of the state code if they choose........... "This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle and was written by Marisa Lagos
That's great. What is still needed is more provision for solar panels and green roofs.Californians could insist all new building contain one or the other.

The Ford Plant in Dearborn,MI
Posted by PicasaThese men are installing a Green Roof at the Ford Motor Co.( the photo was taken by J. Kyle Keener and ran in the Detroit Free Press.) This is Very Good News. Green roofs have been used all over Northern Europe for decades with Germany taking the lead, but now are just beginning to be favored in the U.S. by the corporate world.  Green roofs improve the famous bottom line .No,we are not talking about how well you will look in your new jeans but something closer to the corporate heart---profit.Suddenly sedums are IN. Not to mention sempervivums.
Semperviums are alpine plants, sedums come from all over. Sedum are also called "stonecrop". They work better on roofs than grass since their succulent leaves store water.They are also quite beautiful.You can see lots of them on this site: .

Monday, January 11, 2010

More small agaves: Dwarf Butterfy and KichioKan marginata

Posted by PicasaOf all the small agaves, this one is the most enchanting. Love at first sight. Look at those leaves! Mme.  Butterfly seems ready to take off---full of spirit. Agaves can be a little intimidating--more than a little if we're talking about the big ones like a. americana. But agave isthmensis---Mme Butterfly-- just wants to be admired. Her botanical name, isthmensis means she comes from an isthmus probably somewhere in Mexico. She's occupying a gallon pot and won't need anything larger. If you want to try growing your own, follow the link for a seed source. This one was grown by Native Sons and photographed at Terra Sol Nursery (                                                                         

Here is another endearing agave with her circle of offshoots peering out:  Kichio Kan marginata. She is Mrs. 12 x 12. --grows one foot high and one foot wide. Marginata describes her stripes. She's called "Lucky Crown.". Her spines come in yellow, change to orange, then to red and she looks her best in part sun.. What's the difference between Kichio Kan marginata and plain Kichio Kan? Apparently there is one having to do with the stripes. Hard for an amateur to see.

The  really big  striped one that's all over in So Cal  and grows easily to 6 feet by 6 feet is her cousin Agave americana marginata.. Though handsome indeed the Big Guy is not for a small  pot, as the leaves alone can grow to be eleven inches across. There's one down the street that's planning to take over  the neighborhood. .                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Agave Blue Glow

See also her book  Succulent Container Gardens.
Agaves, being desert plants, (we said this before) can stand lower temperatures.. All of them are good bets for inland gardens and points East, as well as the Central Coast.
This one is another mini aloe--- Fatal Attraction (*Native Sons)
4" pot, grows about the same dimensions as Kisso Kan. Fatal Attraction is dressed for the Red  Carpet.

(• Native Sons is a wholesale supplier than serves many Cal ifornia nurseries listed on their site. Their catalog alone is an education in low water plants.)


Posted by Picasa
This is Agave “Kissho Kan” grows 12-18” high and wide, originates in Mexico, is hardy to 0 degrees. . You can see how small it is compared to the plant label. That’s a 4” pot. (Native Sons* grows it.)

“Boutique” agaves (is this LALA land, or what?) is a phrase from from an L.A. Times article by Debra Lee Baldwin (

 She’s got a new book coming out this month on container gardening : Succulent Container Gardens. She’s my Muse, can’t wait to read it. Meanwhile, if you go to the LA Times article there are pictures of more classy small agaves including one that’s really spectacular, Blue Glow. (Native Sons)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mamaillaria longiflora, a Cautionary Tale

Complete Book of Cacti & SucculentsThis photo is from Terry Hewitt's indispensable book, and was taken by Peter Anderson.
Mammillaria are not plants for landscaping around here, unless you live on the side of an arid cliff where it doesn't rain in the winter. Hewitt: "the plant needs to be dry when dormant in winter; it rots if over watered." Yep.
The longifolia which had done well ---filled up its 2" pot--- lived under an overhang where it didn't get rained on and was generally flourishing.Until, a victim of some demented Mary Poppins,it was seized, repotted,and put it where it got watered in winter. Total disaster--it rotted from the root.

Cactus have such strong personalities, like cats,  that to lose one is not insignificant. And to lose one out of  of careless ignorance is just plain tacky. Feeling awful, went to Home Depot to replace poor longiflora.

No mammillaria longiflora to be found. (longiflora refers to the striped pink and white flower; mammillaria means nipple. As a group the mammillarias are sometimes referred to as Nipple Plants.) What's being referred to is the cone shaped nodule that holds the spines.
You can see the cones more clearly in this mammillaria  pringlei especially the right hand one.(The m. longiflora  substitute  was this group of three pringleii.)

Many mammillaria come from Central Mexico where it rains a lot from May to September Mammillaria can't handle water during those months----however, they need really sharp drainage Put some stones in the pot. Many are cliff dwellers. Save a life--move your mammillarias under shelter so they'll be protected from rain and cold.

Here's another Central Mexican native, a "Golden Barrel" that needs the same care. It's an Echinocactus -"hedgehog like". Round and prickly? This one is Echinocactus grusonii. It will get scarred if it gets cold, nor does it like winter water.A wet hedgehog is not a happy hedgehog.