Feb 22, 2007

Are We There Yet?

Gray skies, chilly winds, the relentless onslaught of snails and slugs… this is the time of year when most of us begin to feel like squirmy six-year-olds strapped into the backseat for a few miles too many.

But wait! Up ahead… is that a mirage, or… no! It's the Vernal Equinox, when daylight finally gains the advantage over darkness, on March 21. Humans probably have celebrated this moment as long as we've been able to mark time: ancient Egyptians even built the Great Sphinx to point directly toward the rising sun on this day.

Nature is also in a celebratory mood, and March is a great month to view California's native plants in bloom, from Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) to varieties of Ceanothus, California poppies, pink flowering currant and trillium. And, if there's something you've just got to have, this is a fine time to plant without fear of frost.

But try not to fall victim to Spring Fever: don't go to the nursery without a plan. (And no, "something cheery" isn't a plan.) Analyze what under-performed in your garden last year; what demanded too much attention, or too much water; what else you've seen around town that you like better. How could your garden could bring you more joy?

At the nursery, shopping list in hand, resist with all your power the irresistable temptation to buy all those other cute little plants. (My rule is to not shop until I've dug the hole.) You'll not only save money, you'll also avoid dooming some poor thing to a life of homelessness and neglect. Better still, call ahead to make sure your selections are available, or order with a plant broker to get exactly what you want — no less, no more — in optimal condition.

Speaking of restraint (or lack thereof), if your orange tree has produced its usual avalanche, organizations such as Village Harvest make it easy for you to donate excess produce to feed people in need. Keep them in mind throughout the season; you could even start one extra summer vegetable now to benefit them. It's a great gardening project for kids — especially squirmy six-year-olds like us.

My best wishes for a verdant and joyful month!

Feb 9, 2007

Green Is The New Red

From the Chronicle:

The $6 billion American cut-flower industry has been slow to embrace the idea of an eco-label for cut flowers, although such programs have been popular in Europe for years. Now a group of Bay Area innovators has taken the lead, and if they get their way, 2007 will be the year that "green" flowers finally catch on.

And if you really want to act sustainable, shop locally at OrganicBouquet.com, a Marin-based florist selling eco-friendly blooms.

Or, just take your sweetie to Filoli and make out in the gardens. Yum!

Feb 7, 2007

Get In Out Of The Rain

Maybe because it's gotten a bit soggy outside, I'm fascinated with the "decor inspiration blog" PadStyle. Mostly it's contemporary interior furniture and accessories, but there are a few goodies for outdoor living as well. Not everything here will work in our home, but it's more than enough to get you thinking, "What if…?"

Feb 6, 2007

"If you can't control it, don't plant it."

That's the advice from Backyard Invasion, a new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, featuring images of invasive and endangered Pennsylvania plants.

Pittsburgh is a little out of my way this week, but here are some key points that are worth sharing no matter where you garden:

  • Non-native plants — also known as “exotic” plants — can be classified as “invasive” when they exhibit rapid and aggressive growth. Around here, that would be the Cytisus scoparius (Scotch broom) and Cortaderia sellowiana (pampas grass) that blanket our hillsides each spring and fall, respectively. (I find it particularly ironic that the Scotch broom is in full flower all around the Cow Palace just when the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show is on.)

  • When they take over a garden, park, or planting area, invasive plants endanger the surrounding ecosystem. Obviously, if a weedy species such as pampas grass is consuming a site's water and nutrients, and producing shade, other plants can't thrive there. But it's not just the plants that are forced out: along with them go propagators such as birds, bees, and butterflies; mycorrhizal fungi, lichens, and other symbiotic microbes; and macro- and micro-nutrients that otherwise would support a diversity of flora. And, nature being nature, there's a whole chain of parasites, predators, relatives and beneficiaries that follow all of these out of the ecosystem.

  • The invasive plants are likely to encroach upon regions previously occupied by native plants, many of which are rare, if not at risk for extinction. One reason may be because, while native plants have evolved very particularly to the conditions of their locale—e.g. serpentine soils—invasives will grow damn near anywhere. The second fold of this problem is that, because of their specific adaptations, natives have very few places to naturally relocate once displaced. If you're growing native plants in your garden, weed often and thoroughly: your native micro-habitat is vulnerable to the invading hordes.

  • Able to adapt quickly to new environments and produce seeds in short cycles, invasive plants can be extremely hard to eliminate. Any removal effort is certain to cost money as well as time. Again, a strong case for early detection and treatment (and why it's not so easy to just dispatch throngs of highway workers to machete the Cortaderia and Cytisus into submission).

    Because they create such high-maintenance headaches, it's a lot easier to just look the other way when invasive weeds start sprouting. But if they're left unchecked, entropy dictates we will become a planet of weeds. To learn more about the invasives threatening California, check out Encycloweedia, as useful as it is cleverly named. And make sure you, or your garden designer, really knows what's going into your garden—before that cute little "Tree of Heaven" becomes the noxious weed from hell.
  • Feb 2, 2007

    It's Official

    "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level… Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."
    —Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis

    Feb 1, 2007

    Guilty Conscience 3000, Environment 0

    Timothy Gardner at Reuters reports:

    It's red mangrove trees versus greenhouse gases at the Super Bowl in Miami Sunday.

    The National Football League is hoping to tackle the game's heat-trapping gas emissions by planting 3,000 mangroves and other trees native to Florida, but the plan could be more of an incomplete pass than a touchdown when it comes to global warming, experts said.

    "It's probably a nice thing to do, but planting trees is not a quantitative solution to the real problem," said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University.

    The NFL began planting the trees in August and will finish in May. This year's Super Bowl features the Chicago Bears against the Indianapolis Colts.

    The NFL claims the trees planted in Miami, and at the last two Super Bowls, make the games "carbon neutral" because the trees will eventually absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, emitted at the events.

    Power for the game and fuel for generators at the adjacent NFL Experience Super Bowl theme park, along with its more than 1,200 vehicles, will emit about 500 tons of CO2 on Super Bowl Sunday, according to the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    Attempts by U.S. companies and organizations to offset carbon are taking root as evidence mounts that heat-trapping emissions from industry and the burning of coal, oil, and gas cause global warming that could lead to deadly flooding, storms, and heat waves.

    A draft of a U.N. report to be released Friday says there is an at least 90 percent chance that human actions are to blame for most of the warming in the past 50 years.

    Contenders for the 2008 U.S. presidential race from both major political parties want to enact U.S. laws to limit heat-trapping emissions. That could place value on offset projects by creating a market where industry might invest in green projects in exchange for the right to pollute.

    The NFL should be commended for voluntarily bringing benefits of tree planting to communities, but there are less risky ways to offset greenhouse emissions, said Philip Duffy, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
    "If you plant a tree (CO2 reductions are) only temporary for the life of the tree," he said. "If you don't emit in the first place, then that permanently reduces CO2."

    Jack Groh, the NFL's environmental coordinator, said the carbon absorbing potential of the mangroves will blossom as the trees reproduce and grow into forests. But he acknowledged that it could be hard to ensure that trees planted by children at schools -- another of the NFL's programs -- will last into the future. He said the NFL was constantly trying to learn how to make its climate-neutral program better.

    Even the mangroves could succumb to fire, disease, or be cut down, any of which would release any CO2 sequestered by the trees back into the atmosphere, said Duffy.

    Tree projects can give people a feel-good illusion that they are slowing global warming, the amount of carbon in fossil fuel resources is 25 times greater than could be ever sequestered in trees, said Caldeira. Offsets that reduce the amount of fossil fuels being burned, such as solar and wind farms, and perhaps nuclear energy, can be less risky, he said.

    Alex Rau, a principal based in San Francisco at Climate Wedge, which advises a carbon fund for Cheyne Capital, prefers clean energy projects over tree projects. "If your objectives are entirely on the carbon ... then it is not so wise a project at the moment," he said.

    3000 mangrove trees.
    500 tons of CO2.
    Discuss amongst yourselves.