Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vegan Tomato Harvest

Today's tomato harvest yielded several pounds of Brandywine, Early Girl, Roma, and cherry tomatoes. Grown in a vegan specific environment, these tomatoes were fertilized once during planting time with an actively aerated liquid compost tea which contains no animal by-products and no chemical fertilizers and were left unfertilized during the growing season.

Amazing what we can grow without harming our earth's diverse beneficial microbes!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Volunteering our time for 'AchieveKids' CLCA SFBA Chapter Project

Read about our involvement with this year's local charity event with the California Landscape Contractor's Association on Pages 6, 7, & 15 of the Bay Breeze - June 2008, Volume 32, Issue 6:


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mulch Before May

April is a good time to add mulch to any beds that are bare to the elements. The beneficial microbes underneath the soil will thank you for it by giving your plants a boost in appearance through robust, greener leaves and more flowers. Earthworm activity increases as mulch helps to keep the soil cool for them. Applying mulch in April helps prevent water from evaporating quickly from the soil in hot weather. The last thing anyone wants to see is a plant wilting in the sun after just watering it. We use only one kind of mulch; Mini Mulch Fir Bark. We buy ours from two places, depending on what city we are gardening in.

To find mulch in the San Jose Bay Area, see:

Lyngso Garden Materials

U-Save Rockery

Read more about the attributes of mulch on the U.S.D.A.

Monday, March 24, 2008

T.C. Garden Design & Restoration Report 2008

One Year Later

This garden design & restoration was created for a client who wanted to provide lizard habitat and increase plant diversity in his family's garden where visitors can learn about the plants while viewing insects & animals that thrive in the garden. We created a series of lizard 'beaches' made from loads of sand and existing recycled concrete and stones that were collected from around the property. Here, we've incorporated many types of Salvia, Lavender, Achillea, Buckwheat and other Mediterranean plants to create a low water, natural escape for man, animal & insect alike. A pump-free water feature that runs with the irrigation was made from on-site recycled concrete to provide a water source for the wildlife. This garden has become a haven for local neighborhood garden watchers.


Creating lizard habitat was an interesting learning experience. The general formula involves sand & shelter, with a readily available water supply. In less than one year we've seen a remarkable increase in the lizard population, so much so that the owner remarks he often finds them inside the house and neighborhood kids & cats chasing after them. Because lizards eat primarily insects & spiders, we knew that active soil life would be a priority which sets the stage for effective food chain dynamics. In every garden, insect life functions as a living kind of barometer, providing ample indication of soil & ecological health. In this garden, there is no lack of insect or animal activity.


Another priority was incorporating plants which attract & feed hummingbirds. We have found that the Salvias and Penstemons are the most frequently visited.

Mediterranean Plants & CA-Natives

Of course this is a low water garden highlighting a virtual encyclopedic variety of Mediterranean & California native plants which are readily adapted to our local weather patterns & micro climates. These plants are tough, beautiful, take well in poor soils and require a minimum of care. As an added bonus, many of these same selections provide the food, brush & cover that birds, bees & insects rely on for regular functioning.


To provide a subtle focal point and to highlight the usage of recycled materials, we created a custom water feature using only recycled concrete collected on site, left over from previous construction. This water feature utilizes the drip irrigation for water delivery and requires no pump or power source. This small feature also functions ecologically in providing an on site water source for animal and insect life.


Due to a recent and rather major transplanting of 16 roses, the side strip naturalized with Alyssum, which can become invasive if not monitored. As it continues to grow and fill in as an aggressive and successful ground cover we keep careful watch and remove it from the main garden areas at first sight.

All in all the garden's first year has shown an incredibly productive period of growth & development. We feel that we have achieved the desired goals of creating a fun, beautiful setting for birds, insects, lizards & humans.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hip Methods: Old Biointensive & New Vegan Wisdom

Early in 2008 we were introduced to a hip, classy vegan couple living here in the Bay Area. Little did we know that in networking with these clients we would be setting foot upon the path to high-yield vegetable gardening methods. The chance to work in a vegan garden environment - a plus! - adds a surprising, exciting and enlightening element to our daily gardening practices. Often, our clients turn out to be centers of knowledge & inspiration and this is certainly true in this case.

Vegetable gardening links to our collective past as a species. Not relegated to commercial food or restaurant consumption, growing & cultivation are age old art forms which span the visible horizon of food-chain dynamics. It's often said that if each person with available land used it to produce their own fruits & vegetables that we as a nation would find ourselves liberated from the chain of dependency which stretches from market to stove-top. In lessening or eliminating the need to drive to the local supermarket for fruits & veggies, and eliminating the usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, store bought compost, mulch and amendments, we are in a way taking control of our lives at a basic level so important and overarching in our culture as to seem a new phenomenon - but it's nothing new.

Many agrarian cultures in Asia, Mezzo-America and even Europe have shed light on the concept of high-yield gardening for calories. The simple truth is, it works. Add to this wisdom the high art of vegan environments and we can at once address cultural, environmental and personal issues of health & well being which transcends traditional gardening practices. We are lucky in that we choose to live and operate in the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area where the information culture was born & raised. This explains why so many friends, teachers & clients are so well informed.

As we engage in the process of high-yield, vegan gardening & garden maintenance services we learn more than a few things about cultivation, bed preparation and overall resource availability using only on-site resources which are abundant and self-replenishing. Using the an evolved offshoot of the French Intensive method, first widely hailed here in the U.S. by one Alan Chadwick in Santa Cruz in 1971, now called 'Biointensive' by John Jeavons (a local Bay Area & international gardening hero) we are hoping to help create and sustain a food rich culture of best practices, highly influenced by the values put forth by our friends & clients. Staying true to these values has absolutely no drawbacks, cuts down on the resource chain so embedded in our petroleum-rich culture of years past and ensures that the land, culture and people can better provide for themselves while helping mother earth rest just a little easier.

Be well,
Topaze & Patrick McCaffery

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rose Pruning & Transplanting

Taproot Garden Design & Fine Gardening Report:
Pruning and Transplanting Roses in the San Jose, California Bay Area.

Important Seasonal Note: Always prune & transplant roses during their winter dormancy period, December through February, to avoid transplant shock.

Step By Step

Remove all dead and unhealthy wood (usually brown in color)

2) Cut at a 45 degree angle above an outward facing bud

Cut out all branches that cross or those that are growing inward, to open up the middle of the plant and provide air circulation

Shorten to 1/3 its current size

Clean pruning shears every few cuts by dipping shears in at least 70% alcohol solution to prevent spreading disease between plants

Dig a hole that is at least the width of the rootball, or about 2' wide and at least 1' deep

Add amendments to the soil. We used Gardner & Bloome Organic Rose & Flower Planting Mix, which includes alfalfa meal and worm castings

Build a mound in the middle of the hole, with a mix of the original soil and organic compost or planting mix

Dig up and remove the rose from its old planting hole and clean all weeds, leaf litter, and soil from the base and rootball area

Cut off any damaged roots

Plant the rose immediately so that the roots don't dry out

Spread the roots over the mound, making sure the crown is at ground level (add a banana peel directly on top of the mound for extra potassium)

Backfill with a mix of 50% original soil and 50% organic compost or planting mix

Add a handful of Alfalfa Meal around the base of the Rose. Work lightly into top 3 inches of soil

Tamp down with hands, being careful not to compact the soil around the crown

Soak with water thoroughly; allow to drain, then soak again

The end result
; finished transplanting:

Suggested reading
Jackson & Perkins Rose Pruning Site

Jackson & Perkins Rose Planting Site

Friday, February 8, 2008

Common Weeds & Invasives in Bay Area Gardens

"Invasive plants damage ecosystems around the world. They displace native species, change plant community structure, and reduce the value of habitat for wildlife."
- California Invasive Plant Council

As fine-gardeners one of our main services has always been hand-weeding in favor of using dangerous & toxic herbicides. Every once in a while we find weeds & invasive plants which are hard to identify, uncommon or just plain otherworldly. Nature itself doesn't know a weed or invasive from a redwood and she (mother nature) is perfectly happy to allow for unlimited growth potential for all plants. Lucky us! While some weeds & invasives are easy to spot, some smaller, more attractive or ornamental selections can be a bit harder to identify. To assist curious minds interested in weed & invasive identification in the Northern California Bay Area, we here present 'Identifying Common Weeds & Invasives in Bay Area Gardens'. While this article is offered as a general guide, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Additions, comments, corrections, questions & suggestions always welcome.

All photography (c)
2008-09 Taproot Garden Design & Fine Gardening

Annual bluegrass
Scientific name: Poa annua (Family Poaceae) DESCRIPTION: Annual bluegrass is a low-growing, cool-season grass which dies early in the summer when the top layer of soil dries out. It can easily be distinguished from other grasses by its typical leaf tip which is shaped like the bow of a boat. The leaf blade is often crinkled at the midsection. Annual bluegrass has a membranous ligule that is rounded with a slightly pointed tip. The mature plant grows as dense, low-spreading tufts, 3 to 12 inches (8 - 30 cm) tall, and often roots at the lower nodes.
Click Here for More Info

Annual sowthistle
Scientific name: Sonchus oleraceus (Family Asteraceae)

Annual sowthistle is a widespread annual weed. It is commonly found in California's Central Valley and coastal areas where it grows year-round. Its seeds germinate only in the top 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of soil, so preplant cultivations and deep plowing are effective controls. Seed leaves are stalked and covered with a powdery, gray bloom. They have smooth-edges and are spoon-shaped. True leaves have wavy edges and prickles. Upper leaf bases clasp the stems with clawlike lobes. Mature plant may reach a height of 3 to 6 feet (0.9 - 1.8 m). Yellow flowers mature into white, fluffy seed heads, similar to common groundsel. Hollow stems secrete milky juice when cut or crushed.
Click Here for More Info

California burclover
Scientific name: Medicago polymorpha (Family Fabaceae)

California burclover is a summer annual weed. Stems are up to 2 feet (60 cm) long and tend to trail along the ground, but may grow upright. The trifoliate leaves resemble those of clover and usually have reddish-tinged midveins. Small, bright yellow flowers form in clusters at the end of stems. The seed pod is a bur that contains several yellowish or tan, kidney-shaped seeds. Seed leaves are oblong. The first true leaf is rounded with a single leaflet. Later leaves have the characteristic cloverlike shape.
Click Here for More Info

Common groundsel
Scientific name: Senecio vulgaris (Family Asteraceae) DESCRIPTION: Common groundsel is an early season weed in most areas, but can grow all year in coastal areas of California. Seed leaves of groundsel are elongate, with a blunt, rounded tip. The first true leaves have shallow teeth; the third and fourth leaves are more deeply lobed. Groundsel grows up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall. Leaves are alternate on the stem and deeply indented. Upper leaves are attached directly to the stem, but lower leaves have a short petiole. The green bracts surrounding the flower cluster have conspicuous black tips that distinguish groundsel from other weeds in the thistle family.
Click Here for More Info

Cutleaf geranium
Scientific name: Geranium dissectum (Family Geraniaceae) DESCRIPTION: Cutleaf geranium is a freely branching annual that remains prostrate in turf. Leaves are dissected into narrow leaf divisions. Small, purple flowers are conspicuous. Seed pods are thin and may be up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length.
Click Here for More Info


Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale (Family Asteraceae)

Dandelion is a widely distributed perennial weed. The mature plant arises from a strong, deep taproot that exudes a milky substance when cut. There is no visible stem. Leaves are sparsely hairy or without hairs, have deeply serrated margins, and are clustered in a rosette at the base of the plant. Dandelion can reproduce from seed almost year-round or it can regrow from its taproot. Bright yellow flower heads, 1 to 2 inches (2.5 - 5 cm) across, consist of petal-like ray flowers and are borne singly on the tip of a hollow stalk, 3 to 12 inches (7.5 - 30 cm) long. Seeds are enclosed singly within fruiting bodies and are attached to a long slender stalk that terminates in a parachute-like structure called a pappus. Seeds are transported in the wind. The bristles on the seeds can clog cultivation equipment.
Click Here for More Info

Lesser-seeded bittercress
Scientific name/Other Common Names: Little bitter-cress, Few-seeded bitter-cress

Lesser-seeded bittercress is an annual or biennial plant 3 to 12 inches (7.5 - 30 cm) tall with several branched, smooth stems emerging at the soil line. Mature plant leaves, divided into 5 to 11 leaflets each, radiate from the base of the stems in a rosette. Leaflets are rounded, bright green, and have short stalks and several lobes. Upper stem leaflets are narrower than those near the base. Two to ten white flowers are borne from the stem on stalks of unequal length. The narrow, 0.5 to 0.75 inch (1.3 - 1.9 cm) long pods split open into two curling valves when mature, explosively projecting the flattened and finely pebbled seed up to several yards (meters) from the plant. Hairy bittercress (C. hirsuta) is similar but has fewer, lobed or kidney-shaped leaflets.
Click Here for More Info

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) A low, spreading perennial 2" to 3" tall. The small, white, (sometimes light purple) fragrant flowers can be seen blooming for most of the year.

Arum italicum (Lords and Ladies) Clump-forming Bulb, Height: 10-12 inches. Width: 12-16 inches. Spring flowers are light pale green spathe folds over yellow spadix. Leaves are a glossy, deep green arrow-shaped foliage with white veining. Part shade to full sun. Humus-rich, moist, well-drained soil. ( http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/bulbs/Arum_italicumPictum.html ) This vigorous spreader needs containment or a large area to fill, but in the right spot it is an easy ground cover that has both summer and winter interest. During the fall, large, arrow-shaped deep green leaves with white veins appear and persist through the winter. As the leaves fade in summer, they are replaced by greenish-white spathes and quickly followed by dense spikes of orange-red berries which persist until the leaves return in fall. If grown in a partially shady site, it will produce large leaves with fewer berries, in an open, sunny site, smaller leaves with many berries.
Click Here for More Info

Additional Resources:

California Invasive Plant Council

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Handling Root Rot on Tristaniopsis laurina

Tristaniopsis laurina is also known as the Kanooka or Water Gum, and is of the Myrtaceae Family which consists of over 3000 species in 100 genera and are found in warm regions including Australia and North America. This plant, which can be grown as a tree form or large screen-shrub, tolerates full sun, and light shade and is said to be drought resistant once established.

One of our customers who recently had some tree work performed on her beautiful Tristaniopsis laurina remarked that
her arborist noticed signs of stress and possible root-rot. While the dense ground cover of Sweet Alyssum ( Lobularia maritima ) - which was literally covering the base of the tree, is beautiful and extremely fast spreading (to the point of invasiveness) it needed to be culled in efforts to increase air circulation to the base-crown of the tree. After clearing away a substantial flush of Sweet Alyssum it became very clear that the tree was in fact developing base or crown rot problems. The surrounding ground cover was undoubtedly the culprit.

Many value Sweet Alyssum for its fast growing, fragrant bouquet and bright white to violet flowers but the question remains, is this an invasive plant and should it be removed from local gardens to prevent its spread? We prefer to treat this issue on a case by case basis and see no need to exclude this ready ground cover - when managed - from a diverse plant list. A main point is in limiting the spread of the plant and removing it frequently, with no fear that the plant itself may die back as they are incredibly vigorous growers.

Mixed in with the low growing ground cover we also found a few small flushes of Woodland or California Strawberry (Fragaria Vesca), which we believe is a simply wonderful plant which serves the dual purposes of adding attractive cover while providing a ready food source for our local birds & insects, so we opted to leave some 2-3 feet out from the base.

We also raked the remaining leaf litter and excess plant/leaf material from the base to ensure quick drying and adequate drainage. To achieve this, we will be keeping the base & crown of the Water Gum clean and clear of any excess plant material. We will also discontinue the use of any ground covers or mulch around the crown-base and monitor the plant for future developments. We trust with regular monitoring and a clean base that the plant will enjoy a full recovery and live a long, happy life in its comfortable rural setting.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hello & Welcome

This is the personal & professional journal of Taproot Garden Design & Fine Gardening, owned by Topaze & Patrick McCaffery.

Here, we will be discussing daily garden maintenance issues, design & aesthetics theory as well as ecological stewardship, organic products and best practices in the garden.

Welcome to our journal.

Stay tuned.