The Golden Scourge: Cape Oxalis

Dealing with Cape Oxalis (or not).
Over twenty years of gardening and ten years of professional landscape design experience have taught me a thing or two about weeds.  Namely, that it’s a Sisyphean task to try to eradicate certain species. Of those nasty interlopers, Cape oxalis (oxalis pes-caprae) would get my vote for the King of Weeds, because it’s nearly impossible to remove from the garden- at least without the use of toxic herbicides, which I never recommend using.
Cape oxalis is native to South Africa, which has a Mediterranean climate similar to the Bay Area’s.  It thrives in summer-dry, winter-wet environments and in clay soils.  It’s sun and shade tolerant, and stores its energy in small bulbs, burrowed about a foot deep in the ground, each forming up to 20 plants per year. The plant is a winter perennial, which begins blooming in the fall through spring, then goes dormant in the summer.  Pulling the herbaceous portion of the plant reduces the spread temporarily, but because energy is stored in the bulbs, the plant will soon regenerate new foliage.
Other than digging out all the bulbs (a foot deep) annually and sheet mulching regularly there is little chance of eradicating Cape oxalis from your garden in an environmentally-friendly way.
Bummer.  Sometimes, we just have to give ourselves over to the fact that there are definitely natural phenomena that we can’t control.
A good article on Cape oxalis is in the SF Chronicle:
For more information on Bay-Friendly weed control, check out StopWaste.Org’s information on sheet mulching:

Golden Beet and Bell Pepper Soup

This is my new favorite golden soup.  Try it: you’ll like it.


2 tbsp olive oil
5 shallots, chopped
3 orange, yellow and/or red peppers, seeded and chopped
3 large golden beets, peeled and chopped
4-6 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
4 oz goat cheese
fresh dill and/or parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot.  Cook shallots on med heat with 1/4 tsp salt until translucent- about 5 minutes.  Add beets and peppers and cook on med-low, stirring, for another 10 minutes.  Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, partially cover pot, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for about an hour until beets are tender- about 1 hour.

Let cool slightly.  Stir in lemon juice add salt to taste (more or less, depending on if you’ve used salted chicken broth).  Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.


Ladle into bowls and serve with 1 tbsp crumbled goat cheese and chopped dill and/or parsley.

California Immigrant Stories

We Californians don’t mean to be smug about living in the best place on earth… but we are.  It’s no accident that we put down roots on the Best Coast.  The Golden Gate landscape is gorgeous, the mild climate is delightful and our cultural and economic landscapes offer enriching opportunities.  What more could anyone ask for?

Many of us are transplants from other places, choosing to live here because we’d rather not wrestle winters of snow and sleet, or slog through the ravages of hurricane season.  We come from all over the world- leaving friends and family back home, going out on an emotional and financial limb to relocate, and unsettling ourselves just to have to re-settle ourselves.  But it’s worth it.  We’re here because…it’s better.

This immigrant story is also true for many plants in today’s California landscape.   Thanks to an eminently hospitable environment for all types of flora, the state enjoys a wide ranging plant palette from ferns to cacti. In fact, most of the plants we use in our gardens are from distant places: from China- to Chile- to South Africa.  California gardeners have the incredible good fortune to be able to create landscapes using plants from all over the world, which are happily adapted to our climate and soils.

…yet another good reason to live here.

Below are a few new plant introductions, spotted at the NorCal trade show on February 14th, 2013:




Yucca Bright Star ‘Walbristar

Helleborus orientalis ‘Golden Sunrise’


Kalanchoe ‘Fantastic’


Agave ‘Blue Flame’


UC Santa Cruz Botanical Garden Funhappytime

UC Santa Cruz Botanical Garden Funhappytime:

I have the extreme good fortune to live in one of five Mediterranean Climate regions of the world…California!  BUT…if I didn’t live in this sun-kissed, natural wonderland, and had to pick one other region of the world to live in, it would be South or Western Australia.

Protea magnifica
Protea magnifica, South Africa

Or South Africa.

…or maybe the central coast of Chile…

…or maybe somewhere along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea…

All incredible places on this planet!

By definition, these “Mediterranean Climate” regions are characterized by warm to hot, dry summers and mild to cool wet winters. (Wikipedia has an excellent description of Mediterranean climates:

In short, in California we can grow lots of beautiful plants from regions of the world that share our climate.

Banksia, Australia

Recently, some friends and I did the next best thing to a world tour of the Mediterranean regions- we went to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, an invaluable treasure in Santa Cruz, California.  The UCSC Arboretum houses the largest collection of Australian and South African plants outside of their native countries and is home to a world-class living collection of fauna from California, Australia, South Africa,  New Zealand and Chile.   The regal Proteas and Banksias alone are reason enough to visit the arboretum. Go if you ever have the chance!

Caesar: King of Salads

Caesar: King of Salads

My friend Dana is one of the best chefs I know.  She used to work for a caterer and- lucky for me- snagged this recipe for Caesar Salad Dressing, which I now make by the gallon.  The recipe below makes a lot, and should last for a while in the fridge.  It’s the real deal and contains raw eggs and anchovies….It also makes a great dip for crudités.


I came.  I saw.  I conquered. Then I ate salad.

1 head of organic hearts of Romaine lettuce, torn
1/2 cup Dana’s Caesar Dressing (below)
1 cup garlic croutons (below)
1/4 cup shaved asiago or parmesan
black pepper to taste

Dana’s Delicious Caesar Salad Dressing:
6-8 cloves of fresh garlic
ground black pepper to taste
2 oz canned anchovies
3/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
2.5 tbs dijon mustard
3/4 c. grated parmesan or asiago
1.5 tsp worcestershire sauce
juice of 1 lemon

2 raw eggs
1.5 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. vegetable oil (canola is good)

In a cuisinart, blend all ingredients except for eggs and oils.  When well blended, add oils and then eggs to emulsify.  Let cuisinart run until dressing becomes thick (milkshake consistency).  Refrigerate to store- keeps for at least 2 weeks.

Garlic Croutons:
6 cups cubed sourdough (or another white bread)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 fresh garlic cloves, chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Toss everything to coat bread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until golden.  Cool.

Compose salad.  Toss lettuce with cooled croutons and shaved asiago or parmesan and dressing.  Serve!

Two Passover Flourless Cakes

I was the luckiest kid in the world.

Every time we had dinner at my grandparents’ house, my family would constantly remind me of my incredible good fortune.

As they savored every morsel of chopped liver, matzoh ball soup, and succulent brisket, aunts and uncles would exclaim, “Your Bubby is The Best Cook In the Whole World!”

Of all the billions of people in the Whole World,  I was amazed that my own Bubby was bestowed with this honorable distinction!  And I got to eat at her house all the time!

Who wouldn’t be grateful?!

Although there may have been a few other contenders for the title, she really was a great Jewish cook and made a mean flour-less Passover banana cake, which I’ll share at this opportune time.  Although she never made a flour-less chocolate-almond torte, she might have if she’d known about it-

Manya Kleinman’s Passover Banana Cake

8 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp sweet wine (optional)
6 tbsp potato starch
6 tbsp matzoh cake meal
2 small mashed bananas
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Pre heat oven to 325.  Spray a 10″ angel food pan and set aside.  Whip yolks until light, add sugar and beat until fluffy. If using wine, add to yolk mixture.  Add mashed bananas to the yolk mixture.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites, then sift in matzoh cake meal and potato starch until blended.  Gently fold in chopped nuts, if desired.  Bake for one hour and 10 minutes.  Turn pan upside down on rack when done and let cake cool in pan for 1 hour.

Flour-less Chocolate-Almond Torte 

1 cup whole almonds, toasted
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
7 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
unsweetened cocoa powder
lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter a 9″ springform pan and set aside.  Combine almonds, chocolate, 1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt in a food processor until almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with cream of tarter until soft peaks are formed.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry.  Add 1/3 of the nut mixture to the egg whites and fold in.  Gradually fold in the remaining nuts.

Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Place pan on a rack and let cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto rack.  When cool, dust with cocoa powder.  Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Two Words: “Recycled” “Concrete”

As we head into our fourth year of this long recession, all of us in the landscaping profession have become increasingly astute about how to provide homeowners with landscaping remodels that they can afford.  Yet, while they request more economical garden installations, our clients continue to desire beautiful and, increasingly, environmentally sustainable design solutions.  The challenges presented by these requirements actually offer some surprisingly creative opportunities for landscape designers and contractors who are willing to try new and unconventional approaches. 
This quandary brings back memories of my wise grandmother who taught me about the treasure trove of beautiful and pragmatic solutions awaiting those who are imaginative- and economically savvy.
alameda paradise files (1)
Repurposed concrete driveway

When she immigrated to the US in the early 1900’s, this impoverished young woman had nothing but hope for a better life- and gumption.  Her uncanny ability to fashion haute couture from salvaged remnants of fabric; to serve up feasts from cut-rate groceries; to cultivate lush, prolific gardens from scavenged seeds – all demonstrated an artful determination to transform scarcity into beautiful and valuable commodities. 

As a designer committed to providing quality landscapes to discerning clients during these challenging economic times, my grandmother’s wisdom constantly resonates with me. Homeowners have had to navigate the maze of this ongoing recession by being increasingly practical and creative about home improvements.  Their renovation priorities are typical: to enhance their quality of life by creating a more enjoyable outdoor space; to capitalize on the value of their home; and, for an increasing number of environmentally conscientious homeowners, to incorporate sustainable landscape features in their remodels.  Of course, all of these requirements must be economically viable.  
Graceful recycled concrete terraces

Given the above parameters, Grandma’s pragmatic adage, ‘Waste Not; Want Not,’ is often the best approach to modern landscape design.

The growing trend to use recycled concrete in landscaping projects perfectly illustrates this principle. From elegant terraces and innovative planter beds, to artistically reimagined driveways turned into patios, repurposed concrete provides an inexpensive alternative to new materials for constructing beautiful and functional landscape features.  Although labor costs can be similar to construction with new materials, overall costs are less using recycled concrete. Because pre-existing concrete is ubiquitous on many residential landscapes, repurposing it on-site rather than hauling it off to dumps reduces landfill waste, conserves fuel used in transporting materials off and onto the site, and reduces carbon emissions generated by transportation.  In addition, recycled concrete can add beautiful texture and color to a garden.

In the words of one wise grandma, “What’s not to like?”

Graceful recycled concrete terraces
Graceful recycled concrete terraces
alameda paradise files (5)
Repurposed concrete driveway