Monthly Archives: December 2014

Yay for Rain!

With Northern California experiencing the most rain we have had in 3 to 5 years (depending on who you ask), it seems a bit ironic that this post is about our new irrigation system that we installed this week.

 

We are VERY happy for the rain, even if it meant the island was closed today. With three years of drought, the winter rains we had been receiving was never adequate to fully saturate the dry soil, and while water catchment would be filled, there was a deficit of moisture in the ground each year.

 

All of the gardens are hand watered except for the pelargonium trough, the new lighthouse lawn and the toolshed terraces. The trough line was installed when the pelargoniums were planted in 2005, and we recognized the need to water the dry toolshed terraces last winter to keep the plants healthy and thriving.

 

This past summer, staff and volunteers spent the majority of working days hand watering the remaining gardens, and often, our efforts were still not quite enough. The plants got by on rationing our supply and when our tanks went dry we were lucky enough to still have access to the barged in fresh water.

 

We wanted to be proactive this year, and not only save ourselves time watering but use the water more efficiently by installing water emitters directly to the plants.

 

The rose terrace is supplied by one tap that is gravity fed from the holding tank at the summit of the island. The rose terrace itself is flat but there is enough pressure to meet our needs. Staff member, Karolina, designed the rose terrace to have 4 irrigation zones. Each zone, running by its self has enough water pressure to fully cover all of the plants in each zone.

 

Karolina and Lynn connecting the main line to turn on/off valves for each zone. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Karolina and Lynn connecting the main line to turn on/off valves for each zone. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

For each zone, we have a 1” pipe that will connect to our garden hose. Using shut off valves, we can select which zone we will water. Connected to the large pipe are the ¼” spaghetti tubing connecting a bubble emitter at the base of each plant. We can even adjust for future plantings by adding a spaghetti tube or by plugging a hole and removing the tube.

Spaghetti tubing connecting the bubbler to the main line. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Spaghetti tubing connecting the bubbler to the main line. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

A pretty simple system for the do it yourself home gardener that will undoubtedly save time.

And we have water!

 

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Making our List and Checking it Twice

Santa will not likely be coming to Alcatraz any time soon, but we made a wish list of new plants anyway.

With the winter rains, comes planting season; and it is our best opportunity to take a close look at the gardens and order new plants. Last week, garden staff walked through all of the gardens, scrutinizing each flowerbed. With 5000 visitors each day to looking at the gardens, we are fairly critical of the plantings, as we want the visitors to see the gardens at their best all through the year.

 

There are a number of reasons why we change plants – the plant was too high, didn’t bloom, was a target for the seagulls, or it simply didn’t do well enough or the plant did really well and we would like more (yay!). And of course, there is the ‘cause of death unknown’ reason (which even happens to people with green thumbs).

 

A bare spot where Salvia 'East Friesland' had been growing. This spot in the garden suffers from foot traffic - the plants get stepped on and the soil compacted. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

A bare spot where Salvia ‘East Friesland’ had been growing. This spot in the garden suffers from foot traffic – the plants get stepped on and the soil compacted. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Two plants on the wish list that did really well and we would like more of are Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’. This pretty blue native with a pink tinge looks amazing with yellow Coreopsis and red Gaillardia. Another new favorite is Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’. This is a blue flowered Echium that we planted on the Toolshed Terraces last year. The low height gave a great display behind white roses and did not grow too high to block the terraces behind it. This Echium also blooms the first year it is planted.

 

A new plant that we are going to try this year is Teucrium chamaedrys, a germander. We have a tough garden spot along a walkway that has two very narrow beds that are shallow. Spring bulbs do well in these beds, but for the summer, it is difficult to start any annuals as the gulls take their toll on the new plantings. Establishing 4” pots of this germander during the gull’s absence may be the trick. The spring bulbs will still come up through this perennial.

A new plant that we will try this year - Teucrium chamaedrys.

A new plant that we will try this year – Teucrium chamaedrys.

 

I highly recommend a garden walkthrough with critical eyes at the end of every season. Quite often, when you are working in the garden and you notice that you wish to make changes of particular plants, you get distracted and forget about your brilliant idea. Having your garden task being solely to examine your garden should be a part of your season’s end cleanup. Be sure to take your smart phone to take photos and a note pad.

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