February 11th, 2011
We’re excited about a number of small trees we are bringing into the nursery next week.
Metrosideros collina ‘Springfire’ is a luscious, evergreen flowering tree or shrub for mild coastal climates like San Francisco, Berkeley, and Stinson Beach. You may recognize the genus name, Metrosideros, from the common coastal street tree, Metrosideros excelsa, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree or pohutukawa. Well, erase that image from your mind: Springfire has much showier orangey-red blossoms and lusher fuzzy green foliage. Metrosideros is also the genus in which the ubiquitous Hawaiian native tree, ohi’a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) resides.
The brilliant flowers on 'Springfire' out-do most New Zealand Christmas trees in San Francisco. Photo by James Gaither (JG in SF on Flickr)
(Take a look at the picture above on Flickr.)
Before the buds explode into sparkling orange-red they resemble kitten toes
Pure sand, rich loam, and even clay soils are suitable for this species, and fertility is rarely an issue. The more sun it gets, the more it will bloom. Exposure to salty sea wind is no problem. Once established, it won’t demand a lot of water, but will certainly grow more quickly with regular irrigation. It also makes a nice hedge.
The glorious flowers emerge in cycles through the year but peak in spring. Photo by James Gaither (J.G. in S.F. on Flickr)
(Check out the above photo on Flickr.)
Metrosideros collina 'Springfire' grown as a street tree in SF's Pacific Heights
February 11th, 2011
Pittosporum angustifolium: What a delightful small tree -- fragrant and drought-loving, too!
We’re excited to be selling the rare weeping Pittosporum angustifolium, a very drought-, heat-, and frost-tolerant small tree that’s widespread in interior Australia. It’s best for inland locations in Central and Northern California, too. Its shiny linear leaves hang on a narrow, upright tree with weeping branchlets and silvery bark. Aussies call it “native apricot” because its small bright fruits resemble apricots (but aren’t edible). The open crown allows a lot of light through and casts animated shadows on the ground below. Thanks to its narrow profile, it fits into small gardens and sidewalks. David Feix, one of the Bay Area’s most thoughtful and adventuresome landscape designers, recommends this plant for areas with a touch more heat than the fog belt of SF/Berkeley/Oakland.
Walking the streets of San Francisco, you may have notice a variety of intermingling jasmine-like fragrances. It’s an under-celebrated quality of the city.
Pittosporum trees are the source for many of these sweet scents. Several species are planted as park and garden trees, but Pittosporum undulatum, “Victorian box,” is the commonest street tree. Clothed in lush green leaves marked by an undulating edge, it produces small, heavily scented, creamy-white blooms at least four times a year in San Francisco. Its native home is moist forests of Australia’s southeast Queensland, eastern New South Wales, and eastern Victoria states.
Lots of pittosporums make good garden plants. Fragrance is just one selling point.
September 5th, 2010
Norfolk Island palm: one of the most elegant species for coastal California gardens
We loved Far Out Flora’s post on the Norfolk Island palm (Rhopalostylis baueri) in the San Francisco Botanical Garden during a recent warm spell. Check it out. Matti and Megan caught amazing pictures of the palm’s lavish bloom.
Only quibble: If ONLY Dolores Park were home to more of this species, we’d be ecstatic. Alas, very few are growing in San Francisco, and even fewer are visible to the public. Two others besides the Botanical Garden’s that we know of are on Eureka Street near 22nd and in the 900 block of Teresita Blvd. near Melrose.
We think the ones at the SF Botanical Garden are much more vigorous than most we’ve seen elsewhere. Here’s one in Orange County, at the South Coast Plaza shopping center.
August 25th, 2010
The Palm Broker truck sets up behind a crane.
We helped install a rooftop-terrace garden today in San Francisco. It was hot, sunny weather, the first heat wave since March. The chic, dark-clad, modern house, built by kevin slagle design + build is a beautiful spot for a 36-inch box, five-foot Brahea armata (Mexican blue palm), a five-foot Phoenix roebelenii (pygmy date palm), several Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’ trees (peppermint willow, from Western Australia), olives, and silvery-green Acacia covenyi (from New South Wales, Australia).
Its box removed, this Mexican blue palm is ready for planting.
The residents chose two stunning and complementary palm specimens. Together the plants demonstrate the varied beauty in the palm family, from stout and radial (Mexican blue palm), to pliable and expressive (the pygmy date palm).
Pygmy date palm (left) and Mexican blue palm in cool custom containers by kevin slagle design + build
Craning a tree into the air is always a source of awe.
From the street, a peek at the trees over the parapet hints at the lushness felt when you’re ensconced in the terrace garden.
Inside the house is a magical view up into the crowns of the new trees — welcome greenery in this über-urban South of Market neighborhood. What could be more urbane than this confluence of secluded oasis and skyline prominence?
Check out more projects by Kevin Slagle and company at ksdesignbuild.com.
June 12th, 2010
New Zealand and coastal California share many aspects of climate — especially our temperature range and humidity. They tend to get more rainfall over there, especially in the warmer half of the year, than we do.
Many of the plants the Kiwis can grow, we Californians can, too. Palms are no exception. Our friends over at Palmtalk.org have shared a video shot at an established palm garden near Auckland called Landsendt. It’s “palm porn” in as literal a sense as any G-rated media can be. Remember, virtually anything seen in this video will also thrive in San Francisco and mild coastal areas of the Bay Area and central California. And it’s all safe for work viewing.
Landsendt sub-tropical gardens, Auckland New Zealand
Some of the special plants visible are the colorful-crownshafted Geonoma undata, from high altitudes in the Andes; majestic Ceroxylon quindiuense and C. parvifrons, also from the Andes; groves of New Zealand’s native nikau palms, Rhopalostylis sapida; and cycads like Encephalartos, Macrozamia, and Cycas. Other non-palms spotted include a Pandanus sp. from New Guinea’s highlands, a large-leafed Ficus species (F. dammaropsis? F. auriculata?), and — can it be? — a Cecropia species.
June 10th, 2010
Coconut crowns make an exceptionally graceful silhouette against the tropical skies of Puna, Hawai'i
- Polynesian-introduced coconuts thrive in the lava along the Puna Coast of Hawai’i’s Big Island.
We found an interesting article about the ecological change wrought by introduced coconut palms on a previously coconut-free island in the central Pacific Ocean.
It’s sad to think that the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), a lovely icon of the tropics, can also be a human-introduced invasive species on pristine islands like Palmyra. This atoll, directly south of Hawai’i in a belt of heavy rainfall just north of the equator, has a rich indigenous forest on its sparse land area (4.6 square miles) — and an extraordinary coral reef and lagoon habitat underwater.
The newly coconut-dominated portions of the landscape attract far fewer birds than the native forest, and thus lack the guano-enriched soils of the native forest. Even where native forest plants grow near the coconuts, their foliage, flowers and fruits are less-nutritious than they are when growing in coconut-free parts of the island. Such impoverishment puts dependent organisms like birds and insects at a disadvantage and is likely to reduce biological diversity.
Palmyra Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the USA, administered as a National Wildlife Refuge by the Interior Department.
Palmyra Atoll makes a tracery of green in the vast Pacific. Photo by Ethan Roth
May 14th, 2010
Many people are familiar with the California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, native to watercourses in the lowland deserts of Southern California. The largest grove is at Palm Springs, and it’s a sight as awe-inspiring as any other botanical wonder of California. “Filiferas,” as we call them here at the Palm Broker, are planted all over California, even up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Lines of them frame Capitol Park in Sacramento. The species has naturalized outside its historical range in California, as at the mouth of the Kern River Canyon near Bakersfield and in Death Valley. A well-grown California fan palm is stately, and an avenue of them, majestic.
Typical California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) specimens at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California, retaining their dead fronds
Baja California is also home to the California fan palm, and to four other palm species, as well. One of them is particularly well suited to the range of microclimates in the Bay Area — the Guadalupe palm, Brahea edulis. We have one specimen planted here at the nursery that we moved from our Guerrero Street location. Dolores Park is home to an old grove of Guadalupes, too. Other notable Brahea edulis can be found on our Bay Area palm map.
Unlike the desert-dwelling California fan palm, which thrives only in the hotter, drier inland parts of the Bay Area, the Guadalupe palm, native to a foggy island in the Pacific, grows well throughout lowland California — wherever winter lows stay above 22F — even along our foggy coastline. It also grows well and looks beautiful in shade.
Drought-tolerant Guadalupe palms thrive in the shade of a 300-year-old valley oak in Walnut Creek, California
The California fan palm, alas, won’t thrive in shade, and runs a high risk of fungal disease in the cool, humid weather that prevails in San Francisco and anywhere near the ocean and bay. They both thrive inland, as seen in this photo from Sacramento (Guadalupe on left, California fan on right).
So why call the Guadalupe palm “native?”
The state of California is home to portions of four different floristic provinces: Californian, Sonoran, Vancouverian, and Great Basin. To quote the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden:
In nature, the distribution of plants rarely coincides with political boundaries, but rather is determined by the interaction of climate, geology and geography. A regional association of plants that share these growing conditions is called a floristic province.
The Guadalupe palm’s home falls within the California Floristic Province. The island shares many species with the Channel Islands (e.g., Santa Catalina) and mainland California. Guadalupe palms grow amidst indigenous Monterey pine, Pinus radiata var. binata; toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia; sword fern, Polystichum munitum; California juniper, Juniperus californica; and members (some endemic) of such typically Californian genera as Cupressus (cypresses), Eschsholzia (California poppies), Ceanothus (California lilac), Arctostaphylos (manzanita), and Eriogonum (buckwheats).
To be accurate, Guadalupe palms used to grow with these plants, but many became endangered or were extirpated by more than a century of feral goat browsing. The destruction has now ended with the removal of the goats as part of a restoration project, and plants are responding with rapid growth.
So, in the sense of being a species from the botanical province most characteristic of California, Brahea edulis is native — just not to the state of California.
OK, it’s a technicality, but a fun one to contemplate (palms with pines and cypresses and oaks — oh my!). What matters, though, is that the Guadalupe palm is a lovely species that thrives in all parts of the Bay Area, as long as you can give it some decent drainage, and irrigation for the first several years of its life until it’s established. Besides climate compatibility, it offers a nice scale (stays below 30 feet tall, mostly below 15), good performance in a container, and a clean, green look, thanks to its tendency to shed old leaves. No nasty thorns, either. We often recommend it over Washingtonia and some other, more common, palms.
A well-kept Brahea edulis in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood
This avenue of Guadalupe palms at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena is perhaps the most extensive formal planting of the species in California.
April 6th, 2010
Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chinese windmill palm, is one of the most cold-hardy of palms. Gardeners in London, Vancouver, and Tokyo grow this palm to perfection. It looks really neat in the snow.
Trachycarpus wagnerianus, a close cousin we like to call the “waggie” palm, makes an durable container specimen. Isn’t this little family of fan palms endearing?
It’s also a palm that produces fascinating flowers this time of year. Ours here in the nursery are pushing out new flowers right now.
Flowerstalks of waggies emerge among the leaves in the crown.
The bracts are the pale-yellow, leathery structures enclosing the mass of flowers.
Each of the corn-like grains is an individual, unopened flower.
Waggies are such pretty, durable palms. They look particularly nice in groves. Even in a small city garden they can make a lovely grouping.
Waggies -- Trachycarpus wagnerianus -- have elegant, sculptural leaves.
We were pleased to see how popular they are in Japan (where they originated) — and how well they fit into tiny Tokyo city gardens. Their Japanese name is “toujuro.”
A typical waggie (toujuro) in Tokyo's Nakano District
January 30th, 2010
Acacias are among the showiest blooming trees we can grow in the Bay Area. Fuzzy golden orbs and cylinders emerge suddenly on many species from winter into spring. Because these spectacular blooms often coincide with the shedding of airborne pollen by pines, oaks, and cypresses, people think they’re allergic to acacia, but usually it’s the conifers and oaks that are causing all that itchy sneezing.
A flowing 15-gallon-size Acacia boormanii was the first to go gold here in the nursery this January — and admiration seems to be trumping complaints about allergies. The profuse lemon-yellow flowers smother the lush mass of fine, grey-green phyllodes (leaflike structures common to many acacia species). This species is useful as a multi-stemmed screening tree, growing to about 15-feet tall but keeping foliage to ground level. It’s amenable to hard pruning nearly to the base every few years, or to training up into a cluster of sculpted trunks with clouds of foliage above. It will tolerate clay soils, and thrives in deep, well-drained soils. A little bit of summer water, especially inland, will keep it looking gorgeous.
Acacia boormanii, the Snowy River wattle, in January bloom
The intensity of acacia bloom in midwinter always comes as a jolt. The invasive Acacia dealbata, ubiquitous in suburban areas of the Bay Area and elsewhere in California, produces acid-yellow masses of flowers starting sometimes as early as December. (On the French Riviera it’s celebrated as “mimosa.”) You see similar flowers on the common San Francisco street tree, Acacia baileyana, offset by feathery, purple-grey leaves. The color grabs attention like a visual siren.
The hairy wattle (you wonder why we stick to botanical Latin?), Acacia vestita, is another of our favorites, planted at the front gate of the nursery.
Acacia vestita just beginning to bloom in mid-January 2010
By contrast with Acacia boormanii’s fluid, cloud-like form, Acacia vestita’s shape is unmistakable. Its weeping, ropy branchlets hang nearly to the ground, especially in youth. They bear silky blue-grey phyllodes in the shape of tiny, pointed, gibbous moons that contrast beautifully with the apple green skin of the branches and trunk. Growing quickly to 12 to 15 feet in height and width, it looks a bit like a green Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. Okay–it’s a lot prettier than that, but there is a resemblance. Like most Australian acacias, it’s drought-tolerant and requires no fertilizer and will tolerate temperatures into the low 20s Fahrenheit.
Splashes of fragrant winter gold emerging now feel like that moment when a free dessert comes compliments of the chef. On top of a perfect meal, we didn’t expect or need it, but boy is it delicious.
January 16th, 2010
We’re at the moment in San Francisco’s seasonal growing cycle when the relative quiet of the Thanksgiving-to-winter-solstice period breaks into smashing bloom with acid-yellow Acacia baileyana and Acacia dealbata, deep-sapphire early ceanothus, and delicate plum blossoms (annually finding their raison d’être).
We’re always looking for additions to these common midwinter elements and their glorious signs of mediterranean-climate flourishing. Down at the Presidio, in the casual median strip garden of Kennedy Avenue, Banksia praemorsa presents the most-stunning show in town right now. It’s a Western Australia native that loves sandy soil and even seaside conditions. Imagine banks of these 12-foot shrubs in Pacifica and Daly City and the outer Sunset and Richmond districts.
The evergreen foliage is quite pretty, too. It appears clipped by pinking shears, a form that inspires its species name, praemorsa. New growth emerges covered in bronze fur.
This Banksia's stems lean and rise upward.
This bush is in all stages of bloom, from bud to full glory, and the birds are loving it.