San Francisco: Wine Deliveries, Lunch, and Flora Grubb Gardens (Again)

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 Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, at Flora Grubb Gardens.

On my first full day with my husband in Lake County, CA we had to get up early and head to San Francisco. Another long day in the car wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was worth it. He was going to attend a day-long industry-only wine tasting and I’d planned to take in some sights.

From the time he woke up he started feeling unwell so we adjusted our plan a bit. During harvest and crush, he really gets worn down so a rest day was in order and we were both kind of excited about visiting SF together.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’.
Other than an early dinner date with a new garden writer friend up in Marin, the city was very briefly our oyster that day. Our only serious task was to deliver some cases of wine, and while waiting in the car at one of those stops, I shot this picture of a typical street somewhere in SF.

Sorry for the dirty windshield but note that a weekday drive into San Francisco from Marin can be pretty painless during October just so long as you wait until after all the morning traffic.

During the drive, I discovered something funny about harvest. Once all the grapes are in their tanks fermenting, the whole valley in Sonoma actually smells of fermenting grapes. (Mr. B said Napa is even worse.) Coming from beer central, I should have realized this was possible but I just had never really thought about it. What an experience for the nose!

Entering the city you get to pay your $6 toll. I never get to take pictures of the tollbooths,  so I was happy this time with Mr B driving. They are designed to match the bridge and I think they’re the prettiest tollbooths I’ve ever had to go through.

After we paid our toll we had no plans and for me that was unusual—but welcome. Usually when I drive into SF I have some idea of where I am going since otherwise I’d still get lost very easily. In this case, I just sat back and enjoyed the view.

Alcatraz as seen from Hwy 101 just past the tollbooths.

The first thing I saw, of course, was Alcatraz in the distance. It’s now such a large part of my Ikebana project it made me smile. Finding my own metaphorical escape from the imprisonment of chronic illness has become such a game for me and gardening and plants are such an integral part of my strategy. I think for some of us, making the battle less personal is key to our survival. We need that distance to feel more comfort and less fearful. We need that space to heal. In a way, I’ve tried to leave a lot of my troubles on that island and I think it’s been working.

For lunch Mr. B decided to take me to the Ferry Building Marketplace. What a great little shopping area they have there! (I now know what Portland wants to have in its plan to create our James Beard Public Market. Shopping before your ride home is a such a great idea!)

So the first business that truly caught my eye because of its regionally accurate “shop locally” distinction was McEvoy Ranch. Could you have a store dedicated to olive oil and its many products anywhere else? I think not! That’s what they do. They’re olive ranchers.

To say that I felt envious is an understatement. I want to be an olive rancher too. (When he met me he was shocked that I cooked everything in olive oil. That still includes things like fried eggs and pancakes.)

I think I may have been an olive oil life-stylist long before we discussed and marketed things called “lifestyles” to consumers. My dad used to crack up when I was a girl because I’d use our jugs of olive oil to concoct rosemary and olive oil leave-in conditioners for my thick dry hair. (I still use olive oil soap but it’s usually the kind made in the Middle East.)

But oh how I now want to be an olive rancher…

Speaking of lifestyles, the gardening lifestyle is not an uncommon one to find in San Francisco either. Kingdom of Herbs was actually kind of nice to visit because it had upscale fun stuff mixed in with other odds and ends that all related to a love of all things plant material.

As someone who’s known for picking seeds wherever I go my husband and I giggled quite a bit about how I’d fit a few of these into my pockets. Not likely.

They had a lot of nice hats too.

And then there were plants…

and preserved plants and wood products. (Next year I really hope to preserve my boxwood cuttings. I really love these wreaths but they’re a bit pricey.)

After we grabbed some take-out from a deli, we wandered outside to watch the foot ferries while we ate. (This ferry takes commuters back and forth across the bay to Marin County.)

On our way out we stopped by The Gardener. It is a small local chain in the Bay Area and I was a bit less enthused by what it had to offer since it had far less to do with gardening.

I liked their display though of Japanese gardening tools. Reminded me a bit of a little piece of art I could hang on my own wall.

Mexican Flame Vine, Senecio confusus. This is a plant I’ve tried to grow from seed once or twice with little success.

Later, after the deliveries we went to Flora Grubb Gardens. I was embarrassed that I’d already been there four times this year, but since it was going to be my husband’s first visit, it somehow seemed necessary.

I was not disappointed. He was truly blown away by the displays and by the plants. As usual, I obsessively noted every change I could and thought about plants I may want in the future. (If only I could have that second garden in California.)

Queensland Silver Wattle or Pearl Acacia, Acacia podalyriifolia.
Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos ‘Bush Dawn’.
Hibiscus ‘Haight Ashbury’.
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. It’s endemic to California and is the largest of the North American Oaks. Some mature specimens can be nearly 600 years old, and can reach almost 100 feet in height.
Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha ‘Midnight’.

I love all the colors and you may have noticed that incredible blue sky?

Groundsel, Senecio mandraliscae and Sedum ‘Ogon’ behind it.
 Aloe ‘Pink Blush’. What an incredible hybrid!

Then there are the exterior/interior design ideas that Flora Grubb is so famous for. I still haven’t made my Sedum masterpiece, but that’s probably because I am still stuck on that Jackson Pollock flowerbed idea. (More on that next season. I’ve made some progress with this idea this year.)

I am not sure if the wire baskets are oyster baskets, but they sure look like they could be. These little decorative wall items are kinds cute and I hope to make some this winter. I so love anything with gilding.

Last time I don’t think I added a picture of their suspended Woollypocket display.

This geometric bear head is great too. After all it is California and they do have that silly bear on their flag, so why not!

Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’.

Just before we left I discovered these two Begonias. Glad I did too because one of them I can grow from seed. It is really amazing how much leaf variation exists in this group. I truly am in love with all of them, but the Grape Leaf Begonia might just be my new favorite.

Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.
Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Four, The Fern House

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The Fern House in the Volunteer Park Conservatory is probably my favorite House, but that is first and foremost due to the fact I am such a plant nerd and this area holds a super special plant right now. It is probably the rarest plant I have ever seen. Now I will share it with you too. It is a coffee relative from Chiapas, Mexico and it has the kind of story I swoon over.

Hard to believe, but a chance encounter between a population of Deppea splendens, and a man named Dennis Breedlove, led to the plant’s survival. In 1981 Breedlove collected seeds of this plant in the mountains of Chiapas where the only known population lived. He sent out seeds to different botanical gardens, and the seeds were grown. In 1986, he returned to the same place in Mexico only to discover the entire area had been tilled under and the plants were gone. It is now considered extinct in the wild but you can find specimens in botanical gardens.

I dug around for the name tag for this draping Coleus, but I could not find one. It reminded me though how not long ago I’d sought some out. Draping Coleus could make a great houseplant in the right place. I’d better get back on that so that next summer I can have amazing drapers.

Chinese Glory Bower, or Clerodendrum chinense, is new to me, but it sure made a great impression with its large leaves and tissue-like multi-peteled blooms.

Angel’s Trumpets scare me because I know they are poisonous to cats, but I love them when my cats are not around. Cats and plants are a funny thing though because I know for a fact I have other poisonous plants but I truly have found that if you offer the felines plenty of the plants they like, they tend to turn their noses up at the others. (This is Brugmansia versicolor ‘Ecuador Pink’.)

Ah, the rest of the Fern House was amazing too. So many of these plants are often offered as houseplants and so often I fall for them.

The laminated placard below explains how ariel roots function. Makes you feel bad for stuffing all of that into a pot and not allowing it to take over an entire bathroom.

At this point in the Fern House I let go of my fact checking.

I knew this was a Passion Vine though.

The ant plant is nice, but I wonder how it survives next to its flashy neighbor. Nepenthes is never a plant you want to be near—especially if you’re an insect who cannot resist it. BEWARE.

This sundew lives by the little pool seen earlier with the ariel roots. It’s a Drosera dichotoma ‘Giant’. I would love to see these in the wild someday. Until then I will rest here beside the pool.

Of course the collection had to contain an Australian tree fern!
An Aristolochia had to be here too.
Feast your eyes as I did!
The view from the final room, looking back at where we just toured, is really verdant. Hey, I like green and I bet if you’re reading this, so do you!