Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

City by the Bay

Warning! This post is NOT from the Big Apple.

I'm in California speaking at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, and I've spent lots of time on the streets, checking out urban horticulture in the City by the Bay. I'm sure I look like a child, marveling through my camera lens at the most casual street plantings. But the plant palette is so different here (San Fran is Zone 9), I just can't help myself.

Which would you rather see by the subway tracks: rats or poppies? It's a tough choice, I know, especially for a New Yorker, but I'm going to say poppies.

And check out the woody trunk on this prickly pear! This is a street tree that LOOKS tough enough for New York City, although I doubt it would withstand our freezing winter temperatures. True, there are perennial Opuntia (prickly pears) hardy to NYC, but I'm pretty sure this isn't one of them.

Jasmine growing up a tree in the middle of the Mission district.

Tibouchina in front of a nursing home.

And in bloom right now, all over the Bay Area is Ceanothus (aka California lilac). Blooms are generally shades of blue and purple (there's also a white variety) and bees love 'em. The fragrance resembles that of Heliotrope, i.e. intoxicatingly delicious. Sadly, most of them aren't hardy for us back in NYC, although a few less blue, less beautiful relatives are listed for zone 6. It's a new shrub for me and I hate to say goodbye. Anyone know a blue Ceanothus for zone 6?


Anonymous said...


You probably already know this one, but Gloire de Versaille is hardy to z7 and in a protected location with perfect drainage. . .

can we say zone denial?


Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks Anonymous,

I rarely plant for Zone 7 because most of my clients are on rooftops where it's even colder and windier than at ground level. But I may have a sheltered spot in a south-facing corner where I could give it a try. It's definitely worth a shot!


Georgia said...

I live in the East Bay and share your wonder at how many plants thrive in the Bay Area. I especially like the princess tree and ceanothus.

SaraGardens said...

Forestfarm claims 'Gloire de Vers.' is hardy to Z6 - and they also offer C. integerrimus - also z6 and fragrant... and a z5'er but that one's white-blooming, like the eastern native (an arguably 'kitchen garden' plant). I'm itching to convince you to order from Forestfarm, but I think hardiness zone isn't the whole story - the climate in the Bay Area is different in so many other ways - and some of the Ceanothus species are adapted to high/dry, or to lime-y, or some other darned thing we can't give 'em in NYC.

Ellen Zachos said...


You're probably right about cold hardiness not being the only issue but I'm still willing to give it a try...that's how taken I am with this plant. Are you hankering after something from ForestFarm? We could order together and save on shipping.


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