Monday, November 28, 2005

A Hunt for the Endangered Garden Gnome

A gardener near Marysville wrote and asked me where she could find a nice (2ft) garden gnome as a Christmas gift. She hasn't been able to find any at local nurseries. I have to say... I can't recall seeing any garden gnomes at Sacramento nurseries either! Where have all the garden gnomes gone? Have they all been liberated? If anyone knows of a good local source for tall garden gnomes (2 ft. is tall for a garden gnome, right?) please comment!

I suggested she try Eisley's and Emigh Hardware, since they tend to sell "folksy" garden decor. Think of any other good places for her to try?

I did find some good online sources. I haven't ordered from any of them before, but these were top Google results so you can assume they're not fly-by-night gnome sellers.

Fans and foes alike, you might be interested in the George Bush gnome from Only $29.95. Comes in traditional, military, patriotic or original (Texan) dress. Original's my favorite, in case Santa's reading this. I also have my eye on the $500 Accessory Contest prize.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

First Frost Advisory

My fingers are numb as I type this. Our first frost advisory of the season has been issued (Thanks, Cheryl). Since our area is a little marginal for citrus, I felt the urge to cover my young orange, lemon and lime trees with Agribon row covers, which can protect down to about 6 degrees F. I also covered my succulent pots and, dang it, should get out there and cover my hot peppers, basil and tomatoes. Yes, I still have hot peppers, basil and tomatoes!

If you don't have row covers, use sheets, plastic tarps, canvas tarps... even Christmas mini lights.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How to make a Pumpkin Squirrel Condo

1. Be a squirrel.
2. Chew hole in side of pumpkin.
3. Devour contents of entire pumpkin.
4. Move in.

A friend sent me some cute pics of a squirrel making a home in someone's front porch pumpkin. I decided to Google the phenomenon and learned it's apparently somewhat common. I have 3 uncarved home-grown pumpkins out front just begging for squirrel tenants!

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3
Link 4 (this one includes a video clip)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back from Mendo... again

I just returned from another little Mendocino getaway. Mendocino always leaves you wanting more. There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat, and never enough time to do it all. This time I happened to be there during the annual Wine and Mushroom Festival. I was also really lucky to be able to go on a mushroom walk led by two California mushroom experts, Taylor Lockwood and Charmoon Richardson at Van Damme State Park. The walk was great... a little too drizzly to bring my camera, but exciting nonetheless. These guys are as nuts about mushrooms as I am about plants! It's always great to encounter passionate people. On the walk, they pointed out the complexities of distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous ones. You really have to know your stuff if you're going to cook and eat wild mushrooms. I think I'll stick to mushrooms grown in captivation, thank you very much. The idea of dying while lying in the wet woods clutching a frying pan just doesn't hold much appeal for me. A mushroom photo expedition on the other hand...

I stopped by the Mendo Bot. Gardens nursery and gift shop and left with a few plants and a book. The plants weren't anything I couldn't get locally or in the bay area, but that's no excuse for not buying the following:

  • Mexican lobelia (Lobelia laxiflora)-- It was blooming near the demo garden and I couldn't resist bringing one home. They supposedly tolerate extreme abuse and are attractive and hummer-attracting.
  • Chondropetalum tectorum (aka a "restio")-- I finally couldn't talk myself out of its exorbitant price and I only want one. Ever.
  • Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa or Apera arundinacea)-- because I killed the ones I bought at Annie's Annuals. Know when they died? This fall, immediately after being divided! They looked utterly dividable at the time, so I don't know what to say...

As for the book... I asked the salesperson manning the front desk if they had any books about the gardens. What she produced was an HGTV book called Flower Gardening... Bring Home the Secrets of Great Gardens. It profiles not just the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, but twenty North American public gardens and includes expert tips from the gardens' caretakers. Plenty o' color pics too.

Ooh, and from Highway 1, I spotted tree dahlias (Dahlia imperialis) in bloom at Heritage House. I couldn't resist pulling over to snap some pics of their spectacular dahlias. If you're into movie trivia (I am)... you should know that this romantic inn happens to be where Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn filmed Same Time Next Year.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Garden Artistry

If you're like me, you'd rather visit a postage-stamp sized garden with really cool plants and art over a meticulously coiffed estate garden any day. What I seek in a garden is unusual plants (or usual plants used in an unusual way), art, a sense of humor, wonder and personality... and a healthy dose of disorder. Uh-oh... did I just describe myself? Don't answer that.

As for art, I'm not referring to the fancy schmancy repro greco-blecho kind. Don't get me wrong... estate gardens are attractive and impressive in all their grandiosity... they just don't float my boat. They impress too easily. They buy your affections.

I happen to be more impressed by a garden's ingenuity and daring rather than its financial means. I want to see what kind of garden you can make from a hand-hewn sculpture piece or a broken dish or a piece of scavenged driftwood. And plants. Plants from friends, plants rescued from the sale table at Target, plants you splurged on at Annie's Annuals. Plants you actually planted.

Two garden artists whose work I admire are Keeyla Meadows and Marcia Donahue. Both are East Bay artists. I will probably never be in a position to buy one of Keeyla's gazillion-dollar sculptures, but maybe a pot... someday. And a bench. And a little table.

A lot of really inspirational garden artists and nurseries call the East Bay home-- Keeyla, Marcia, Berkeley Hort, Annie's Annuals, The Dry Garden, Planet Horticulture and more. Perhaps it's the mild and mellow climate that nurtures this brand of horticulture. Whatever it is, I love it. I aspire to it. I am inspired by it.

The following books help to illustrate my kind of garden:

Friday, November 04, 2005

Uncommonly Good Garden Gifts

Uncommon Goods has some new kooky and fun garden-related gifts and self-indulgences.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

How to keep Avian Flu out of your backyard

Because we live in the Pacific Flyway, this is pertinent information for people with backyard chickens and wild bird feeders. See the announcement from UC Ag. and Natural Resources (UCANR) below:

November 1, 2005

CONTACT: Jeannette Warnert, (559) 240-9850,

California chicken owners should be on the lookout for avian flu

This fall and winter, as migratory birds make their way down the Pacific Flyway, they may be packing avian flu, including the deadly and much-publicized H5N1 variant.

The University of California offers resources and information to help commercial-scale poultry producers, families with pet chickens and all poultry owners in between prevent infection, diagnose potential diseases and stop the spread should a severe bird illness be identified in the state.

Fortunately, avian flu fears need not threaten a cherished American tradition: the Thanksgiving turkey. Avian flu cannot be transmitted by handling store-bought turkey or other poultry nor from eating it.

"There is absolutely no risk in eating poultry," said UC Davis-based Cooperative Extension poultry specialist Francine Bradley.

Bradley also assures the public that there is no reason to get rid of chickens at this time. Bradley, herself a former chicken owner, says poultry can make amusing pets while providing families with some fresh eggs.

One such family is the Shapiros of Ahwahnee, a foothill community in rural Madera County. They have kept poultry for years -- all three children have been active in 4-H poultry programs -- but they no longer allow their 16 chickens and one turkey to run loose during the day, as they had in the past. Nevertheless, the Shaprios are committed to keeping their birds.

"Poultry are easy to take care of, cheap, fun and friendly," Carol Shapiro said. Her 14-year-old son Jacob has had great success in 4-H poultry judging competitions and will go to Kentucky in November for a national contest.

Ten-year-old Luke taught one chicken to jump over a stake. "They're smart and they have personality," Luke said as he stroked his chicken.

Carol Shapiro said she is not yet concerned about her children's close proximity to poultry. "In 4-H, the kids have learned how to protect chickens from diseases. We also went online to get information about avian flu," she said. "We've been watching our birds and listening for news."

Wild birds are most frequent source of avian flu virus

Avian influenza viruses occur all over the world. Free-flying aquatic birds have been the most frequent source of the virus. Ducks, geese, gulls and shorebirds are considered the principal reservoirs.

In poultry, avian flu ranges widely in severity. Some infected birds show no symptoms at all; others die suddenly. The variant making world headlines -- H5N1 -- is deadly to chickens and turkeys, but only sickens ducks, making them potentially very efficient at spreading the disease.

Most troubling, over the past two years, avian influenza H5N1 has sickened 121 people in Southeast Asia, and killed 62 of them, according to the World Health Organization. So far, almost all human cases have been identified in people who had contact with infected poultry. Some media outlets are reporting that human-to-human transmission is suspected in a few cases. Scientists fear the virus will mutate to allow rapid human-to-human transmission, a development that could cause a severe worldwide flu epidemic.

California susceptible to avian flu

California birds could play a significant role as the avian flu story unfolds in the coming weeks and months. Scientists believe migratory waterfowl who find hospitable wintering grounds in California may travel from as far away as Siberia, a location in Eastern Russia that has reported cases of H5N1 bird flu. The means of spreading the infection to birds on California farms and backyards is not hard to imagine. A wild bird with avian flu could touch down for a break on a poultry owner's premises or simply fly over and shed the virus in droppings.

Bradley said all backyard poultry in California are safest inside a flight pen with a small hen house attached.

"Make sure the roof of the pen has a solid cover to protect birds from virus that may drop from birds flying overhead," Bradley said.

Bradley recommends bird owners follow customary poultry biosecurity measures -- techniques that protect pets and commercial animals from many diseases that threaten the health of poultry.

"We always tell people, don't let anyone near your birds who doesn't need to be there," Bradley said.

Personal sanitation is also important, she said.

"After visiting a park or lake, a neighbor's farm or anywhere birds are present, clean and disinfect shoes before returning to the poultry pen," Bradley said.

People who wish to allow the birds to run loose and free-range producers should keep all food and water under cover so they don't attract wild birds.

Free bird flu diagnostic services

Signs of avian flu are similar to flu symptoms in humans: coughing, sneezing, low productivity and depression. Immediately isolate sick animals from healthy ones, Bradley said. If the bird is a valued pet, take the animal to the veterinarian’s office for testing. Bradley suggests finding an experienced poultry veterinarian.

Free diagnostic services are available to the public at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's five California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratories, located in San Bernardino, Tulare, Fresno, Turlock and Davis. However, there are caveats.

"Once a bird is here, it doesn't leave the premises," said Rocio Crespo, a veterinary diagnostician at the Fresno laboratory. "If the owner is willing to have the bird euthanized, the service is free of charge. We conduct a necropsy and then incinerate all carcasses."

The laboratories also accept dead birds for testing. Crespo suggests keeping the bird refrigerated and delivering it to the laboratory within two days.

An option for bird owners who want to keep their birds alive but can't afford a veterinary visit involves some do-it-yourself sample collection. A small amount of the bird's blood may be drawn and delivered to the laboratory within 24 hours. Perhaps even easier, the owner may wipe a sterile swab in the bird's mouth and throat and then take another swab sample in the bird's backside where droppings come out. The sample swabs may be delivered to the laboratories in zipper-closed plastic bags. For an $8.25 fee for each swab, the lab will conduct tests to determine whether the bird has an H5 form of avian flu. (Addresses, driving directions and contact information for the five California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratories are here:

The UC Davis Department of Animal Science offers avian flu information on its Web page at .