Dirt's For The Birds


...And even they will find it hard to swallow! 

I'm a stickler about using the word "soil" when others may feel content to say "dirt." Simply put: Dirt gets on your clothes and coats your car. Soil feeds your plants through a complex system of living and dying organic matter. Soil is practically worth its weight in gold. In fact, I call one of the major components of good soil, compost, "black gold." A new-to-me garden blogger, Greg Seaman, wrote a piece for his blog recently that will help explain the importance of this essential garden nutrient. Read it here.

Remember: Soil is what you use to build your garden, and dirt is what you track through your house when your garden is done.

Nick Wilkinson: A Little Farther Down The Garden Path

The image of a plant enthusiast is easy to conjure: A kindly bearded gent, ankle-deep in mulch, puttering in the garden from dawn til dusk, trusty trowel in hand. Here to break the mold, however, is Grow Nursery owner and plant fiend Nick Wilkinson. We featured Grow itself in December of '11, but this time we'll delve a little deeper into the man behind the rare and unusual succulents.

GBG: Were did you grow up? Why did you decided to move to the Central Coast?
NICK: I grew up down on the border, 100 miles east of San Diego. It was really hot: The town's motto was "Where the Sun Spends the Winter." I moved here from San Diego 6+ years ago with my wife to buy a nursery and have been able to make that pay the bills.
GBG: How would you describe yourself?
NICK: Forever full of energy, yet constantly out of money.

:  What is your favorite plant or flower?

NICK: SO SO SO hard. You know I love them all! I guess the plant I have the most of in my collection is Operculicarya decaryi. I could have 100 of them and be happy, but that is true of so many...

GBG: How did you get in plant business?
NICK: After years of finding myself spending every last bit of money I had on succulents and vintage pottery, I got the idea to buy a nursery.
GBG: Which succulents would survive the apocalypse?
NICK: Sempervivums- With a name that in Latin means "Semper ("always") and vivus ("living"), there isn't much else to say.
GBG: How did being an artist influence your career as a plantsman?
NICK: You know, this is what I think makes me different from most plantsmen. Instead of coming at this from a plant-first outlook, I come at this profession from a perspective rooted (no pun intended) in form, shape and design. I'm constantly bending plants over, torturing them and looking for the right planter to make them into a sculpture.
GBG:  When you were growing up what did you want to become?

NICK: Anything but a farmer which is what my father, grandfather, and lots of other family did for a living. Turns out that instead of farming alfalfa, I'm farming succulents.

GBG: Do you like to travel and where have you been?
NICK: YES! I've been all over Europe and more recently been traveling a bit in Mexico, especially Baja the past few years. I'd travel more but my family is young and it's just not in the cards for me to be gone for long stretches. Luckily, I get asked to give lectures several times per year on various topics so to travel and document the trip can pay off... at least that's what I tell my wife and accountant.
GBG: If you were an animal then what would you be?
NICK: (see below)






GBG: Would you rather have super strength or super intelligence?
NICK: Luckily, I was blessed with both.

Water Conservation Sweeping The Nation!

...Starting with our own KCBX!

Many thanks to Mike Bush of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden who, during his January 25th, 2012, interview on KCBX, mentioned a garden we completed with water conservation champion Mary Wilhelm. We were happy to be able to feature Mary's garden in an article with the Tolosa Press, highlighting that due to her efforts to reduce her water usage, she hadn't watered her garden at all during 2011. Take a listen to the SLOBG's Executive Director as he discusses upcoming SLOBG events, signature qualities of Mediterranean climates, and the future of our inspiring local garden:

Mike Bush SLO Botanical Garden KCBX Interview 





Bare Root And Beautiful

As we button up our coats and wrap our scarves against the winds, Summer may seem like a distant memory--but try, for a moment, to recall last year’s array of sweet summery produce. Remember the delicious fruits: juicy plums, crisp apples, plump berries, and more? The way to get a head start on these summer crops is by planting your own fruiting trees now. How? With bare-root trees! Bare-root trees and berries are cultivated and nurtured throughout the year by growers around the country. Then, as the plants go dormant, workers gently remove dirt from the roots and wrap the root ball in sawdust, newspaper, or other insulating material, and prep it for shipping.

Now that you’ve acquired the taste for Summer, selecting the trees is the fun part! San Luis Obispo County residents have a huge diversity of trees available to them via local purveyors such as Bay Laurel Nursery and Farm Supply, and can easily plant themselves a kingly orchard. For the homeowner with less-than-ample growing space, consider multiple-budded trees, which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto them, meaning that one apple tree can provide you with early-, mid-, and late-season fruit.

Once you’ve picked out some favorites, it’s important to confirm that your choices will do well in your particular micro-climate. In much of the country, as air temperatures begin dropping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the Autumn, trees loose their leaves and enter a dormant period. Many fruit trees originate from these colder climates and need enough “winter chill hours” to send them fully dormant in the winter. The required number of hours that the tree spends at 45 degrees is considered its own personal “chill hours.” Fortunately for us, plant breeding has introduced trees that are “low chill” and do well with the reduced chill hours that our mild winter climate provides. Therefore, look for trees that are rated at 400 chill hours or less for best performance if your garden is in San Luis Obispo County.

Immediate coastal climates will require varieties with even fewer chill hours to do well (i.e. 1-200 hrs). Good selections for the foggier coast are figs, pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis, lemons, pineapple guavas and berries. If you’re gardening in North County, you have plenty of chill hours and need to be concerned more with winter hardy varieties that don't mind freezing temperatures.When your trees and brambles arrive, take extra care with their delicate roots since they won’t be protected by soil and will easily dry out or freeze. Have some good compost on hand to amend the soil, and give yourself time to plant the trees the same day you bring them home. If you can't plant them the same day, dig them partially into the ground or cover the root ball with layers of moist, insulating material. Come springtime, the plants’ well-established root system will provide you with happy, healthy fruit and flower production!


Just Try To Keep Up With Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin photoIn the past several years, succulents have become a mainstay in drought-tolerant gardens throughout central California. Their practicality aside, the geometric shapes and colors ranging from sublime to electrifying create a definitive sense of place in a garden. One woman in particular has made a career of illustrating how to creatively plant and care for them. Best-selling author Debra Lee Baldwin has written books, penned countless articles, createdilluminating websites and blogs, excelled at photojournalism, and perfected watercolors--all in support of succulent plants. Through her books and lectures she has brought the succulent movement to established gardeners and curious novices alike. Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) allowed homeowners and professionals to see the many applications for succulents in gardens. Her popularity grew, as did that of the plants themselves, and Succulent Container Gardens (Timber Press, 2010) was born, encouraging plant-o-files in any location or climate to cultivate these remarkable plants.

Debra is a one-woman bibliography of plant wisdom and beauty. One of her websites, http://www.succulentchic.net (dedicated to these “fascinating fat-leaved plants and exploring their design potential”) features beautiful images of co-mingled succulents, channeling the love of plants into creative designs that are easy for anyone to execute. Her main website, http://www.debraleebaldwin.com/, describes Debra more thoroughly by listing her blogs, links, and CDs; sharing the progress of her own garden; and lists where to catch this prolific potter's next presentation.

More personally, I'm truly inspired by the tireless way in which she has unified the leaders of the plant world and brings exposure to their work. She has captured and crystalized the succulent movement with her lectures, networking, and drive to promote these remarkable plants.
(Photos used with permission from www.DebraLeeBaldwin.com)

Plant Puzzler Revealed!

Happy New Year to all! Gardens by Gabriel is happy to announce that our winners of last week's Plant Puzzler were Madeline, Kaveh, and Greg, who correctly guessed Kniphofia rooperi.

Sadly, this brings our 6-week Plant Puzzler to a close. Thank you for your willingness to guess and share, and to pit your wits against some of my Mediterranean favorites! We're pleased to be able to make a donation to the SLO Botanical Garden on your behalf, for each of your guesses. We're rounding up to the nearest Benjamin for an even $100.

It was a close count to determine the top two guessers, but after tallying the totals we have two clear winners:
Madeline and Greg, who vyed for first place with four and five correct answers, respectively. The prize for each of these winners is a bare-root tree, locally sourced and hand-selected. We didn't make this easy on you, so we're mightily impressed with all of you.


Week 6: Mystery Plant December 26th, 2011

Happy Holidays, Plant Puzzlers! Are you enjoying figgy pudding and playing games with family? Our last Puzzler begins today--but first, a recap of last week's Mystery Plant. Verbena Lilacena was the plant in question. Our hint alluded to its "lilac-colored blooms" in the hopes that wordplay would jog your plant cells. Our big winners for the week? Madeline and Kaveh! Congrats!

Join us in donating to the SLO Botanical Garden with our very last Plant Puzzler. This week's contender:

  • My dark evergreen foliage is arranged in grassy green clumps
  • Emerging only in the fall and winter, my flowers are chunky and egg-shaped
  • Each bloom has a radiant yellow base that blends to a brilliant reddish-orange cone of tubular flowers
  • My leaves are arching and keeled

Our last Puzzler will be revealed on Monday, January First. Enjoy your New Year Celebrations, plot your guesses, share your tips and tricks, and visit our site to make your guesses!


2011 Plant Puzzler #5 December 19th

Ready for the Latest, Plant Lovers? Lots of good guesses this week, and some close calls, too! This Mystery Plant was tricky because it bears a strong resemblance to its agave cousins. Many guessers accurately identified the species, Agave vilmoriniana, but then broke into divergent camps in terms of the cultivar, with 'Stained Glass' and 'Variegata' being the top two.

Perhaps surprisingly, 'Variegata' is a variety of agaves that is no longer grown. Once it was discovered, 'Stained Glass' gained immediate popularity for its brighter colors and stronger contrast. It was also our choice for last week's Plant Puzzler! Congratulations Megan, Chris, Greg, Madeline, Nick, and Kaveh!

Remember: Your accurate guesses are building the donation cache which will benefit the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Our Facebook page will contain a hint this Wednesday, December 21st for this week's Mystery Plant.

This One's Got Flower Power


  • I'm what's known as a "sub-shrub"
  • I grow in tidy 3x4 mounds
  • My leaves are deeply dissected
  • My blooms are a rich, vibrant purple that fades as time passes
  • Per season, I'm one of the longest-blooming plants on the Central Coast

2011 Plant Puzzler #4 December 12th

CONGRATULATIONS to our many winners this week! Dendromecon rigida var. harfordii was our Mystery Plant, and these plant-o-files were all spot on: Heather, Alice, Bracey, Mike, Chrystal, Kaveh, Madeline, Becki, Daniel, Mary, and Greg 


For every correct Plant Puzzler answer we receive, we’ll donate $1.00 to the SLO Botanical Garden. The top two people who guess the most correct plants at the end of the contest will win a bare-root tree! Check back next Monday, December 19th for the Correct answer to our Mystery Plant for December 12th's Plant Puzzler.



And now, introducing our next Mystery Plant: 

  • I originated on steep Mexican cliff sides
  • My brethren grow practically vertically
  • My arching, curving, serpentine leaves are succulent in texture and variegated in color
  • My many leaves are dried and pounded into a fibrous brush whose bristles contain their own soap (I've always been good at multi-tasking)
  • Note: The cultivar we're looking for in this puzzler adds a twist to the regular species, boasting creamy yellow bands that run the length of the leaves.


Enter your guess here! Include your name and email where required, and in the comment box, write the genus, species, and (where applicable) the cultivar name of the current week’s Mystery Plant. Write “Plant Puzzler” in the box marked “Phone” and include the date of the post with your entry. One guess per person, please!

Visit our Facebook page on Wednesday the 14th for a hint!



We Love: Grow Nursery

Tucked behind The Garden Shed in Cambria awaits Grow Nursery,
plant-nerd haven of the Central Coast. 

Not your average plant purveyors, Grow Nursery boasts not only rare gems of the plant kingdom, but creative twists on traditional garden tools and unusual, artful accessories. Devout plantsman and nursery owner Nick Wilkinson's degree in fine art from San Diego State University perfectly supports his passion for the vibrant shapes and colors of exotic succulents. Knowledgeable in terms of the growing habits and lengthy Latin names of our Mediterranean climate's botanical palette, Nick is also adept at combining his specialty plant collection with unusual garden artifacts. 

Look for plants tucked into seashells, gum-ball machine terrariums, "living stone" succulents planted in the hollowed husks of actual stones, and more. Grow also offers pottery handcrafted by San Luis Obispo county artists like Richard Rowe, Heidi Petersen, Barbara Flynn, Steve Weaver, Jorn Piesnack, Charles Varni and Jeanette Jennings. 

Stop by Grow's new location (2024 Main Street in Cambria) and understand Buddha's reference to the "miracle in a single flower."