The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

About 10 minutes from my house is a public garden called the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. It’s free and open to the public even now during COVID (so long as you wear a mask and observe physical distancing).

It’s a very neatly arranged garden, part flower garden, and part vegetable garden.

Here are some photos of the flower part of the garden in mid-July:

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What’s the Difference between Zone 8b and Zone 9b?

As I’ve said before, the scenery in California is very different from that of Seattle. I moved from zone 8b to zone 9b. Doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a difference, right?

The current USDA hardiness zones were determined by the annual lowest winter temperature, averaged over the past 30 years. (Actually, the current USDA zones are based on the average from 1976-2005.) Zone 8b has an average minimum temp of 10-15 deg F, whereas zone 9b has an average minimum temp of 25-30 deg F. Those are both below freezing, but 9b is just barely below freezing.

First and last frost dates mirror USDA hardiness zones pretty closely. The average first frost date for my area (according to the Farmer’s Almanac) is Nov 29th, and the last frost date is Feb 22nd. Palo Alto has an essentially year-round growing season. In Seattle, our first frost was Nov 16th, and our first frost was Mar 17th. That’s only a few weeks of difference.

These changes are minor, but they do have a significant impact on the plants that can survive the winter. Here in zone 9b, citrus trees and certain other tropical fruits are grown outdoors, whereas in Seattle, they would need to be taken indoors in the winter, or otherwise protected.

The Meyer lemon

Interestingly, though, some fruit trees actually need colder weather in order to produce fruit. Some apples and pears need a freeze in order to set fruit. Here, in California, we have “low chill” varieties, which don’t need to be cold in the winter in order to set fruit. “Chill hours” are the the cumulative number hours during the winter when the temperature is below 40 degrees, but above 32. Low chill varieties need fewer chill hours than normal trees, often under 500 hours (less than 20 days below 40 degrees).

Temperature aside, I think the main reason zone 9b looks so different from zone 8b is rainfall. The data below is from (I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy; the average July high seems a little suspect).

In the above chart, “Rainfall” is the total number of inches of annual rain fall and “Precipitation” is the number of days with measurable rainfall. Seattle gets 50% more rain than SF, and has over twice as many rainy days. All that rain means lush green plants, something I sorely miss in the dry dusty desert of the Bay Area.

Mariposa Plum Harvest

Last Saturday, I volunteered with an organization called Village Harvest, which is an organization based out of the Bay Area that harvests fruit from fruit trees in the area and donates the fruit to food banks. Some of the fruit trees are on public property, and some of the fruit trees are on private property (the people who own the land donate the fruit to Village Harvest by allowing Village Harvest volunteers to pick the fruit).

They harvest all kinds of fruit throughout the season. The apricot season just ended here, and last Saturday was the first of the plum harvests. We picked Mariposa plums from a couple of clusters of plum trees (about 15 trees in total) on land near a law firm in Palo Alto (the land may or may not have been owned by the law firm – I wasn’t clear).

Mariposa plums are a kind of Japanese plum. It has small- to medium-sized fruit that are red with green spots on the outside and has red flesh inside. The volunteer coordinator, at the beginning of the harvest, told us that these plums “weren’t all that good raw” and were better cooked into baked goods or into spiced plum jam.

There were 12 of us volunteering that day, and we harvested over 400 lbs of plums!

The volunteers got to take home “seconds.” These are plums that we picked up off the ground, or fell on the ground as we were harvesting, or had a soft spot or blemish. Village Harvest can’t donate any fruit that has fallen on the ground because they can’t be sure that the fruit will be washed before it is eaten and they don’t want to be held liable for getting people sick from eating dirty fruit.


More plums for me!

I took home a good sized bag of plums.

I cooked them up in a clafoutis, since we had been told that they weren’t very good raw.

I forgot to get a photo before we cut into the clafoutis.

Turns out, the plums were delicious raw, and this clafoutis was not very good. It rose nicely, but it tasted bland and the texture just wasn’t right. I am enjoying the rest of the plums raw.

Seed Update: Palo Alto Veggies and Herbs #2

The zucchini and winter squash that I planted a few weeks ago are growing really well! The seeds were planted on July 3rd. Given that the seed packet said days to germination would be 10-14 days, I’m pretty pleased with growth these plants have put on since being planted 17 days ago. The photos for my last update were taken July 10th, so these photos represent just over a week of growth. Isn’t photosynthesis amazing!

There are four zucchini squash coming up now.

July 10
July 19
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San Jose Heritage Rose Garden

Last Saturday, I volunteered at the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden. The SJHRG is a 4 acre garden near the San Jose airport created in the 1980s. The land was cleared for airport safety, and a proposal was made to create a garden with the empty space. There are over 4,000 roses planted here. The mission of the SJHRG is to preserve rose species. They collect roses from all over the world and maintain them here. There are four criteria they use when deciding which roses to include in their collection:

  1. Roses that are obviously rare or endangered now.
  2. Roses so great that they must be shown to the public
  3. Roses they feel will be rare in the future.
  4. Roses that are important to the history of rose hybridizing.

It is entirely volunteer maintained — all of the weeding, pruning, and collecting of roses is done by volunteers. Even the people who organize volunteer groups like the one I joined last Saturday are volunteers.

Rose season is nearly over here in the bay area, so most of these roses were past their prime.

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Propagating Jade Plants

I don’t particularly care for cacti and most succulents, but now that I live in California, I have to start embracing them. Jade plant is a nice starter succulent to add to my collection (Note that my “collection” of succulents currently amounts to a single snake plant).

Jade Plant. Aka Crassula ovata. Aka Money Plant.

Image from

They supposedly propagate pretty easily by cutting — either a short bit of stem or simply a leaf.

I went the leaf route. I came across a decently-sized jade plant near the sidewalk by a business, and might have covertly pulled off three leaves.

I read online that one could propogate the leaves by letting them dry for 2-3 days to let the ends callous over and then setting them on top of moist soil, like so:

The leaf should send roots down into the soil and form a new plant. This seems a bit like voodoo to me, but it’s worth a shot.

The Neighborhood Gardens of Palo Alto

In contrast to the lush, terraced gardens of Seattle, Palo Alto is flat and dry. Although citrus trees are a frequent sight, I don’t think I’ve seen a single vegetable garden since I’ve been here. Perhaps vegetable gardens are tucked in backyards out of view from the street, but somehow, I doubt it.

Here are some of the gardens I see on my walks around the neighborhood these days:

Lots of this style of planting: spread out shrubs/cacti with dirt, mulch or rocks in between.
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