Get Involved in the Peninsula Gardening Scene!

Get Involved in the Peninsula Gardening Scene!

Novice and professional gardeners alike can participate in a number of different programs happening on the San Francisco Bay Area peninsula; participation in these programs will help better one’s education and grasp on Bay Area plants and gardening techniques, as well as provide a network of like-minded people.  New friendships bloom at the monthly meetings and bi-annual celebrations of the Pacifica Garden Club, and your group of horticultural allies will just keep growing if you join the UC Master Gardener Program of San Mateo & San Francisco Counties.  Both of these programs can transform a novice into a budding garden consultant, eager to share their newly learned garden advice, whereas a professional can take their business to the next level with an influx of new connections and credentials.

The Pacifica Garden Club is an excellent resource for learning, meeting others that are interested in gardening, and helping build a richer community as the members of the Garden Club help raise money for non-profits in the area, and extend their knowledge to other Pacifica citizens.  They have a guest speaker at each of their meetings that teach the members various gardening techniques such as pruning, irrigation installation and repair, growing vegetables, and keeping bees.  They also encourage their members to share their own specialized expertise in round-table discussions.

There are a number of ways to participate in the Pacifica Garden Club; as a member, a guest speaker, or as a Pacifican garden owner for the annual garden tour.  There is open enrollment and a small annual dues fee for interested parties to become a member– members meet once a month throughout the year for education and club business.  The Pacifica Garden Club invites guests to come and sit in on a meeting before deciding if they want to join.  Besides monthly meetings, their members also attend a potluck party in July, a holiday party in December, and the all-day Pacifica garden tour in June.  The proceeds for the admission to the garden tour are put back into the community as the Pacifica Garden Club raises funds for local charities, such as the Pacifica Resource Center and the Pacifica Libraries.  There are a number of other activities throughout the year in which members may find themselves learning, sharing their knowledge or giving back to the community, such as at the beach on Earth Day, at their booth at the Fog Fest, and at the Sanchez Art Center where they maintain a flourishing, fog-loving, flower garden.  Please view their website or contact them with any questions at this email:

If you have more time on your hands and want to get more involved in gardening and helping out your community, then it’s time to become a Master Gardener!  This program is sponsored and run by the University of California agricultural and natural resources department, so the members are trained by UC scientists and other experts.  After completing an intensive education series, members go out into their community to volunteer their knowledge to the home gardener, promoting sustainable gardening practices and a healthy, balanced environment.

You don’t have to know a lot or have a lot of experience in gardening to join the UC Master Gardeners of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties program– all you need is the desire, drive, and time to make a long-term commitment to become a certified Master Gardener, and then to maintain your status.  There is a $325 fee to join the program that pays for the 16-week garden training program, which entails over 75 classroom and field hours.  After the education time is complete, the next step is to take your new knowledge into the community as you will be expected to volunteer fifty hours in the first year before you are able to graduate and obtain your certification.  Volunteering can be in the form of manning the UC Master Gardener Helpline (answering gardening questions from the public and doling out garden advice), teaching workshops, and helping homeowners with their gardens.  You will become your own garden coach after this strenuous year, and will have the certificate to prove it!  If you are interested in learning more about the program, please visit the UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo & San Francisco Counties website or email your questions here:

Out of the various clubs, classes, and programs available on the Peninsula, these are just two examples of how you can get more involved and educated in gardening, more involved in your local community, and make new friends and acquaintances along the way!

Gardening Advice for Bay Area Residents – Highly Successful Plants

Gardening Advice for Bay Area Residents  –  Highly Successful Plants

Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area can be an extensive and confusing task.  Due to our incredibly temperate climate, we can grow tens of thousands of different varieties of plants here.  Also, there are all the micro-climates to keep in mind.  On top of that, we have our own set of pests and diseases to contend with.  It may be difficult to know what to plant with all of these rules, particulars, and possible problems to deal with.

It can be utterly overwhelming trying to learn all the different plants since they all have different needs to keep them alive– the main factors being watering frequency, sun exposure, temperature, soil type, pH level, and feeding frequency.  But there are other things to consider also, when picking the right plants to survive in the SF Bay Area– what types of pests and diseases are these plants prone to, how much room does it need in your garden, is it sensitive to other plants growing close to it– does it compete for resources?  Then there are the maintenance factors: how often does one need to prune this particular plant, how messy is this plant– does it drop it’s leaves in the fall, reseed itself all over the place, send up suckers?  How does this plant grow– does it have the structure you are desiring, does it grow compact and neat, or leggy and messy?  Does it take to sheering, or will it need to be pruned by hand?

The San Francisco Bay Area climate is extremely similar to five other regions in the world– Japan, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, certain parts of South America, and the Mediterranean.  Within this generalized climate are many “micro-climates”, mini environments within our main climate.  For example, the same plants that grow in the hot and sunny hills of Berkeley are not necessarily the same plants that grow in the foggy, salty air of the seaside community of Pacifica.  Even within the same city, one can experience many different micro-climates as they travel through– San Francisco being a stellar example of this.  The moist and cool climate on top of Mount Sutro is the complete opposite of the hot and arid neighborhood of the Mission.  The wind tunnels in downtown San Francisco makes for a difficult environment for successful plantings, whereas the same struggling plants in downtown may thrive in the sheltered Golden Gate Park with it’s many over-story trees providing protection from the wind.

The pests and diseases found here in the Bay Area are extensive– some of them imported, while others are native.  The insects that do damage to plants and seem to be the most prevalent here are snails, thrips, white fly, scale, caterpillars, Fuschia mite, and Japanese bark beetle (that has killed off over half of our mature Monterey Pine trees).  The larger pests, which can be much more difficult to prevent and control, include gophers, deer, raccoons, and rats.  The diseases that seem to pop up over and over are the Armillaria (Root Rot Fungus or Honey Fungus), Sudden Oak Death, rust, black sooty mold, and powdery mildew.

I have devised a list of plants that will work in all the various micro-climates of the bay area, and are resistant to the prevalent pests and diseases for your reference.  If you would like more advice, please feel free to hire me as your personal garden coach as I can work with your micro-climate and particular set of pests and diseases that your neighborhood is accustomed to, as well as suggest what is right for your garden’s soil type and exposure.  But for now, I would like to offer your this free garden advice: please feel free to try out this list in your garden– it should work in any San Francisco Bay Area garden, from Pacifica to Mill Valley; from the Sunset district of San Francisco to the Piedmont neighborhood of Oakland.


Fresh succulent planting
Fresh Succulent Planting

Succulents as a generic term cover a wide range of plant genii, and come in an extensive array of shapes, sizes, and colors.  I love succulents and I use them often in my designs to provide a variety of texture and shades of year-round color without the reliance of fleeting flowers.  Aloe, Agave (“Century Plant”, Echeveria (“Hen’n’chicks”), Senecio (“Blue Fingers”), Jade, Iceplant, and Sedum are some of our most popular varieties, and within these families or genii there is a wide variety of sizes, leaf shape, and colors/patterns.  For example, Aloe comes in green, pink, and striped; can be kept small in a pot, or can overtake the back corner of your garden if planted in-ground.  Sedum can be a delicate groundcover, each leaf being as small as a pinhead, or it can be a sprawling perennial with flower stalks as tall as your knee and big, fluffy, fist-size flower heads.  I clump succulents together in one category as they are all extremely
similar in their care, and they are incredibly well-suited to the Bay Area.

succulent growing on concrete
Succulent Growing on Concrete

Succulents don’t require much water at all, but will thrive with regular water, growing quickly and filling in the intended space with grace.  If you overwater them, they will rot out and die.  If you under-water them, they will not grow but very slowly die back, killing off leaves, but will hang on for years with absolutely no water except what they pull out of the air of our humid environment.  They would prefer soil that drains well, like sandy soil, but will thrive in loamy soil, and will do just fine growing out of bedrock.  I have seen them naturally growing out of the cliff walls of Montara Mountain in Pacifica, and blooming alongside delicate annual flowers in humus-rich soil of a garden, and just plugging along at the beach in the sand dunes of Pacifica State Beach, adding a riot of color in an otherwise drab scene.

Succulent growing on rock cliff
Succulent Growing on Rock Cliff

Succulents don’t require much care, other than occasionally remembering to water them.  They will be fine with or without food.  They don’t make much of a mess, unless you never water them (then you will be picking up dead leaves) or unless you water them regularly (then you will have to prune them a couple of times a year; not bad!)  They are highly resistant to pests and diseases.  Snails and slugs don’t care for them, neither do deer, gophers, or all the tiny creepy crawlers that attack more sensitive, less tough plants.  I have never had to spray a succulent, or plant them behind a fence, or in a gopher basket.

Succulent garden example
Succulent Garden Example

Design wise, succulents work well in pots, hanging on a wall in a frame, in the ground, mixed in with other types of plants, or even growing out of a hole in a lava rock.  They create an amazing display of color and texture when you mix up different species– I have seen leaf colors in all shades of pastels; powder blue, light orange, and red being popular colors.  They generally bloom in the winter with the rains, but have been known to bloom year round with regular water.  Their bloom colors range from pale pink to hot fuchsia, yellow, white, orange, and everything in between.  Finally, one of my favorite aspects of succulents is that they take well to rooting from cuttings.  Which means that you could plant up your garden with them for free, if you can gain enough free cuttings from your friends and neighbors.

California Natives

california poppy
California Poppy

We are in California, so it is only logical that the natives to this state would do wonderfully here.  They also require little care as they are so well-suited to our climate and environment that they tend to take care of themselves.  Some home gardeners resist CA natives because they say that they are “ugly” or that they never bloom, but I have to disagree with that, and will introduce you to some of the natives that blow this theory out of the water.

clarkia in nature
Clarkia in Nature

Clarkia (Farewell-To-Spring), Eschschlozia (CA poppies), and Checkerbloom (a mallow groundcover) are all perennial groundcovers that will carpet the ground in pink or orange blooms.  Mix in some Indian paintbrush, Douglas Iris, Wild Strawberry, and Globe Lily, and you will have a riotous field of spring and summer color.

sticky monkey flower
Sticky Monkey Flower

Perennial blooming shrubs include Sticky Monkey Flower, Huckleberries, Penstemon, and Lupine for a variety of heights and colors, including purple, yellow-orange, blue, and pink.  Both Coffeeberry and Elderberry have interesting and colorful foliage along with their brightly colored summer berries.

douglas iris
Douglas Iris

Colorful and interesting trees and shrubs are numerous.  Ceanothus comes in tree, shrub, or groundcover form, and whose dark green glossy foliage is covered so thick in tiny purple or blue flowers in the spring that you cannot see the green under it.  Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron californica, native of Fremont, CA) is a shrubby tree that grows as wide as it grows tall, and sports fist-size, stunning dark yellow flowers with rich orange buds.  Both Manzanita shrubs and Madrone trees have an amazing display of peeling bark that reveal a rich reddish, smooth trunk underneath, and also both sport clusters of tiny, bell-shaped, white waxy blossoms that attract hummingbirds.

CA natives are drought tolerant, pest and disease resistant, low-maintenance, and can grow in any soil condition, especially in crappy soil that most imported ornamentals would shrivel and die in.

Other Specific Plants That Grow Great Here

Agapanthus orientalis (Lily of the Nile) is a Bay Area standby, and tends to thrive with or without water, in good or poor soil, in the shade or the sun, in the garden or on the side of a freeway.  The only problems I’ve ever had with them is mammalian pests– deer like their flower buds, and gophers enjoy their juicy roots.  Snails make the plant their home although don’t eat it.

flax (phormium)
Flax (phormium)

Phormium tenax (Flax) is the plant with sword-shaped leaves that come in all colors and sizes; there seems to be at least one of every block in the Bay Area.  “Tom Thumb” is a small, chocolate-brown flax that grows no bigger then 1’x1′, whereas “Allison Blackman” variety has olive green to bronze leaves with yellow stripes and red margins and grows as big as 5’x5′.  ‘Maori Maiden’ and ‘Maori Queen’ are known for their brilliant red and pink striped leaves, lending year-round color to any garden, and never growing taller more than 4’x4′, tending to average out at 3’x3′.  The ‘Sundowner’ sports leaves of orange and bronze that light up when the sun’s rays shine through it for an amazing impact.  Plant Flax in the back of a small garden to lend the garden depth and make it appear larger than it is.  Flax will take any soil, any amount of water, tend to not be bothered by pests (except the occasional gopher), and are not known to catch any diseases, although they do prefer full sun.  Their blooms are interesting, but insignificant; the plant is used more for it’s leaves.

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) is a perennial plant that lays down and acts like a groundcover, taking up a lot of space and providing a never-ending supply of bright and interesting flowers throughout the early spring through late fall.  In the early winter, they must be cut back to the base, when there is new growth there.  The flowers are red balls with yellow centers, fringed with red petals that are dipped in orange and then yellow at the tips.  Very colorful!  The buds are flat and yellow, with an outer ring of red.  The dead flowers are even interesting, dark, fluffy balls of fading color, and can be left on the plant for a variety of texture (but should be deadheaded every couple of weeks to keep the plant blooming).  This plant never gets pests or diseases, can thrive in a drought tolerant garden or in an irrigated one, and handles different types of soil well.  It’s only fussy point is that it prefers full sun.

I hope you have been enjoying my blog posts.  I am attempting to share some free knowledge with you, but if you desire more hands-on garden training, my husband and I are available for hire as a garden tutor for you to provide you landscape consultation tailored to your specific needs and desires.  Click here to visit our contact page.  Thanks!

Protecting Your Most Precious Gardening Asset – Your Hands

Protecting Your Most Precious Gardening Asset – Your Hands

There are many reasons that most gardeners wear gloves– not only do they want to keep their hands and nails clean, or keep their nails from breaking, but thicker gloves can also give you added protection from thorn sticks, rashes caused by certain plants, and bug bites.  The main reason that I wear gloves is due to the nasty fungus called Gardener’s Rot that can grow on your skin from submerging your fingers in the soil.  I’ve had it plenty of times so can tell you from experience it is not pretty.  The skin around your nails splits and turns brown.  Then it gets hard, and dies like a callous.  It doesn’t really hurt, but if you are a woman, and want to keep your hands soft and attractive, this is  something that you will want to avoid having to deal with.

My favorite gloves are Atlas Fit.  After trying countless brands, this is the brand that I have come to rely on due to their superb fit.  As a female gardener, it is hard to find a glove that is form fitting, and I really need the formed fit for enhanced dexterity and usability in my fingertips.  If the glove is too baggy, which most other brands tend to be, then I lose the ability the perform fine work, such as constructing drip irrigation systems, or pulling weeds by their root.  I have tried the gloves that they sell at all of my local suppliers, and none of them match the quality or the fit of Atlas Fit.  The other advantage of Atlas Fit is that they do come in Small size– I can’t always find a Small size in the other brands, as they tend to cater to their larger customer base of men.
Large Atlas Fit Gloves

ATLAS FIT 300 Series

Atlas Fit comes in 4 sizes (small, medium, large, extra large), and are a cloth glove that have been double dipped in rubber– there is a rubber coating on the palm, the palm side of the fingers, and the fingertips.  They also come in 3 styles for gardening– their regular gloves are the 300 series, the thermal series have thicker cloth and thicker rubber for keeping your hands warm on a cold day, and the Nitrile Grip series are a much thinner glove on the material side and the rubber side for finer work when better dexterity is needed, or if it is a very hot day.  The Nitrile series also has another size option– extra small, which is perfect size for a child or a very petite woman.  I use the 300 series on a daily basis and they hold up under the pressure.  I love the fact that you can wash and dry them with the rest of your laundry– they don’t need special care.  I would suggest drying them on medium heat, though, as the rubber tends to degrade if the dryer is too hot.

My favorite local irrigation parts store used to carry Atlas Fit and I was perfectly content, but then one day their bulk supplier switched to Bellingham Blue 3000.  The store clerks didn’t know why the supplier switched, and I wondered if Atlas was bought out by Bellingham, as they had the same packaging but with a different name.  I have not been able to find any information on this.

I needed gloves that day, so I resigned myself to the Bellingham Blue, but was very disappointed with the results.  If they did buy out Atlas, then they completely changed the glove in the process.  The small size was loose on my hand; the fingers were too long, and because of the baggy fingertips, I lost the dexterity I needed.  I panicked, wondering if I was going to be stuck gardening for the rest of my life with an inferior product.

Thankfully I was able to find Atlas Fit gloves for sale on Amazon.  I put in a bulk order, and have been since enjoying my endless supply of Atlas Fit!